If you asked Peter Prasa about his place in the world, he’d probably say he wasn’t born for these times. But everyone he’s touched is grateful for his experienced life views and his musical works. Peter Prasa is a singer-songwriter that plays all the instruments in the studio. And while it’s true that he is extremely versatile and able to do so much on his own, he is always inviting friends and other musicians to join him onstage and in the studio. Peter Prasa is an old soul with a musical talent for telling stories and creating emotions through song. Prasa is also an accomplished songwriter that owns the Dragonfly Music & Coffee Cafe in Somerville with his partner Susan Flaherty. The venue provides himself as well as many others a venue to hone their craft and it’s always been a great thing.
When describing Peter’s voice, it is said to be soulful and ultimately smokey. This is a descriptive that I would have to agree with. With an arsenal of heartful songs that tell stories of past love and heartache, Peter utilizes his talent to spin highly visual tales of life’s ups and downs like few others can. His latest foray into musical exploration is called Poets & Heroes.
When it comes to his latest project, I find it best to let Peter tell it himself. He says, “Poets & Heroes came about after I wrote a tune inspired by Amanda Shires, now married to Jason Isbell. My partner Susan Flaherty said it was her favorite song and it should be recorded. ‘Amanda, Don’t’ came to be the reason for this entire 12-song LP. Poets & Heroes was inspired by Shannon Johnson, the hero from the tragic San Bernardino shooting.
“I have started licensing agreements with ‘Trouble’ already and hope for more. It’s a harsh world, musically speaking these days. Licensing is a way to get heard through libraries and commercials if you’re lucky enough. Luck and good tuneage. Contacts, writers, people like you and Jeff Raspe, local DJs help to do much. The first record from 2012 The Best Part Of Me has done great airplay and still, I perform those tunes and get covered. This new record, however, has so much of my friends and great musicians, like the last, but also cello, bowed plucked bass and nuances from all that reverberate my feel. Andy Prasa produced and played all my major guitar leads and some piano, and is my hero in the studio and out. Everyone on the record is amazing.”
So let’s take a listen to Poets & Heroes and find out just what the magic consists of.
First up is a song called “Chills.” Prasa’s crew delivers a laid back smoky vibe on this one. Prasa’s vocal tone is real and raw, reminding me of a cross between Willie Nile and Johnny Lydon. Guitar work comes courtesy of Andy Prasa, and he plays it perfectly where needed. Saxophone work is courtesy of Tom Rosenthal and complements this slinky number quite well. Verse and chorus work is outstanding as are the bridges. Prasa waxes poetic about relationship wants and the people who don’t recognize them in return. Drums and bass slap and pick completely in the pocket as Rosenthal and Prasa lay down their riffs. Pianos glide delicately over the song as Rosenthal blows his bridge work very much like Tom Scott from Carol King’s early records.
“Torch In The Dark” is next. Prasa leads things off as guitars, horns, and rhythms hold down the fort. Prasa delves into the continuing area of love gone wrong as the band backs him up in fine fashion. The middle-eight guitar work from brother Andy is both melodic and pentatonically right on. Andy has also done a great job at production. Drums and bass come courtesy of Jake O’Handley and Fred Dorward. There are no additional instruments or added flair, and the song stands out on its merit. I like that as I see way too much nob twiddling and added filibustering in a lot of today’s music. I love the sound and feel of the piece, and the rhythm work is completely stable.
The theme of this record seems to be one of the relationships gone wrong or unrequited love. That’s good by me. As long as it makes sense, I’m completely onboard. Once again Prasa lays down simple and efficient music that gets to the point and sounds utterly fantastic on “Another.” He is also joined by the incomparable Melissa Anthony on backing vocals along with Bryan Hansen. Tom Rosenthal is back this time on flute, and he blends it in with Prasa and his band of sound crafters quite well. Guitars are melodic and sweet, plucking and chord vamping over the top of pianos, bass, and drums. Keyboards shoot seamlessly underneath vocals and flute as Prasa sings his heart and soul onto the tape.
“Trouble” is instantly a favorite as it rolls out with an almost Bossa Nova vibe. Prasa lays out his lyrical message of a dangerous fling as pianos trill down over the top of the composition. I’m not sure if it’s Peter playing or brother Andy but it’s phenomenal keyboard work. Prasa voice is warm and raw, soaking the song in emotional honesty and powerful delivery. Rhythm work is concise and catchy as bass and drums mix with intricate guitar work (by Andy and Bryan Hansen) and his unique and outstanding vocal work. Prasa has his unique style, and it comes across on “Trouble.”
The disc namesake is up next. “Poets & Heroes” is an anthemic ode to a man’s beliefs and God-given rights. Cello work is courtesy of Professor Jordan Ensinger. His smooth style is reminiscent of young Croatian cellist Luka Sulic from 2Cellos. Plucked bass is flawless and supplied by Jay Buchannan as the piano work of the Prasa brothers sums things up well. Peter sings his song of freedom and the discovery of truth as the group serenades him with pure brilliance and style. This is a perfect example of top-notch production. Everything is straightforward and efficient for the song and its one of my favorite cuts so far.
Bouncing around the disc, I came to a song called “Stranger.” Strummed acoustics set the tone for this fascinating piece. Prasa delves into his lyrical exploration of an ex that has become a stranger to a possible future lover as the band join him. Pianos chime against upright bass (Jeff Biegel) and percussion work (Jake O’Handley) as Professor Jordan Ensinger returns for some background cello work. Prasa’s compositional experience is great here as he gets everything he can out of the song. I’m a big fan of the musical arrangement on this one, and the chorus work is phenomenal.
Another fascinating tune is “Nicotine.” Prasa is joined by Jay Buchannan on bass as well as Ensinger on cello and Rosenthal on flute again. Peter works his complex and beautiful arrangement like a magician, blending acoustic guitars, bass and drums with woodwinds, piano and cello like a Svengali. The verse and chorus work is simply amazing and reminds me of The Beatles during their Magical Mystery Tour phase. Prasa delivers reliable results here, and the lyrical wordplay is also a high point. “You’re like my nicotine with no subtle desire.” The middle-eight flute work bounces off cello and guitar with a psychedelic-styled effect that just works so well. Prasa has scored well with this song.
There are a few more songs that I don’t have space for, but I loved the entire record. Pete Prasa has done his homework well, and he has scored a unique and robust effort with Poets & Heroes. Kudos to brother Andy for solid production work as well as recorders nod to Woodstock Studios Carmen Verderosa and Mike Morello at Daybreakers who also did the mix. Also wanted to mention Bruce Tunkel, a guy who we recently wrote about here for the mastering. Everything sounded fantastic and right.
Peter Prasa can be seen live most weeks over at The Dragonfly Café in Somerville, NJ (https://www.facebook.com/DragonflyMusicCoffeeCafe). He will also be playing on 6/17 at 2:30 pm at the Craft Beer Festival in Somerville and Memorial Day over on Division Street in Somerville between 12:30 and 4:00 pm.
For more information on Peter Prasa and Poets & Heroes, head over to https://www.facebook.com/peter.prasa to get the info.