Donnie Iris – Ah! Leluiah! (CD review)

Donnie Iris & the Cruisers – Ah! Leluiah! – The Christmas Album (2010) CD review

While many of his contemporaries have long since given it up, Donnie Iris has miraculously found a second wind. For proof of this, check out his song “Little Black Dress” from a few years ago – it’s some of the most blistering rock he’s ever laid down.  Now, the man who’s best remembered from his 1981 hit “Ah! Leah!” brings us the cleverly-titled holiday disc “Ah! Leuliah!”

While many artists toss off their holiday album with little or no regard, Donnie Iris has compiled a well-thought track listing, with multiple styles, where all the songs fade into each other creating a unique listening experience.  There’s even an ode to the Beatles Sgt. Pepper, with both versions of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” mimicking the two versions of the title track from the Beatles.  All the elements of a classic Iris record are here: crunchy guitars, layered vocals and catchy melodies.

He’s taken several familiar Christmas tunes and rocked them up “Cruisers” style and the results are quite enjoyable. “Emmanuel” is given a Deep Purple feel with its heavy organ, while “White Christmas’ harkens back to the pre-rock n’ roll days with its fretless bass and trumpet solo.  The lone original, “This Child,” was written by longtime collaborator Mark Avsec and is another standout of the album.

The most impressive track is Iris’ take on Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” – while this has been done many times, it’s not been done quite like this:  Iris single-handedly sang every vocal part, overdub upon overdub – bass, soprano, alto, tenor – for a total of…81 Donnies.  The track took six months on and off to finally complete and it’s a real stunner.  For those who grow tired of the mellow, color-by-numbers type Christmas records, Ah! Leluiah! offers a welcome change.  A seriously fun holiday record.  –Tony Peters