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Phil Vassar

Prayer of a Common Man – 2008 (Universal South)

Reviewed by Jessica Phillips

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CDs by Phil Vassar

This is an ambitious title for country music's fun-loving, upbeat "Piano Man." Conjuring images of a hard-working fellow relying on faith to make it through the hard times, Phil Vassar's fourth album (and label debut) does indeed live up to its name, exploring the themes of the modern-day American - work, love, faith, family, heartbreak in Vassar's most introspective effort yet.

Vassar's voice still balances that fine line between smooth, soulful, and rugged, but the songs themselves are a far cry from the positive, sometimes overly saccharine tunes that saturated previous albums. Although hard to classify as a concept album, the theme of loss and heartbreak runs through nearly every song. While more relatable than previous works, lyrics sometimes rely too heavily on cliche.

The opening "This is My Life" is a skeptical look at modern-day America, blasting corporate "fat cats" and corrupt politics. While there are some good lines ("they can kiss my price of gas"), the song mostly comes off bland and uninteresting. "This World is a Mess" and the self-penned closer "Crazy Life," are some of Vassar's most reflective works yet, arranged simply to let his voice and piano work take center stage. The title track is moving with its honest and uncomplicated, yet stirring lyrics of someone just trying to survive through life's unpredictable ups and downs ("Life takes its toll on the heart and soul/but I'm doing the best I can/Lord, hear the prayer of a common man"). This showcases Vassar's passionate and expressive voice at its best.

"Why Don't Ya," featuring harmonies by Los Lonely Boys (of "Heaven" fame), is a fun rocker that sets aside Vassar's piano for some entertaining guitar lines. While the melody is a bit generic, this track has a great upbeat groove, which serves as a nice irony to the lyrics of a love gone wrong. The hit single "Love is a Beautiful Thing," is a happy, welcome refresher from the rest. Penned by super-songwriters Jeffrey Steele and Craig Wiseman, this depiction of the simplicity and charm of a small-town wedding is should bring back memories for every listener. "Around Here Somewhere," "Baby Rocks," and "My Chevrolet," are mostly forgettable tunes that suffer from overused lyrics and story lines.

This finds Vassar maturing greatly as an artist, unafraid to set aside his happy-go-lucky image to tackle something heavier. However, he's perhaps a bit overambitious. While admirable and honest, a few too many generic lyrics make this album, well, common.