Uriah Heep – High and Mighty (1976)

UriahHeep_HighMighty2.5 out of 5 Stars!

Unfortunately, the “swan-song” release from the Dave Byron-era of Uriah Heep is a mixed bag.

If I was rating Side 1 alone, I’d give the album at least a “4.5” rating, since all of the songs are on par with the best of Heep from the early “glory days.”  Although I was never a huge fan of John Wetton’s “borderline off-key” vocals, the opening song, featuring his voice, isn’t all that bad musically, especially since Dave Byron steps in and sings the bridge section, which saves the track and “ups” its overall rating. Also, “Misty Eyes” and “Midnight” (with its awesome bass riffs, ala John Wetton) are additional tracks that stand right up there with the other “best of Heep” songs. And finally, the last track off Side 1, the highlight song, is “Weep In Silence,” which in fact, is probably one of the best tracks they have ever recorded. It’s also probably one of the best songs to display Dave Byron’s chops as a lead vocalist, with great lyrics and song structure. Definitely one of the highlights of the band’s career.

But Side 2, however, is almost unlistenable, and deserves nothing better than a “2” rating—bordering on amateurish status, probably the worst set of tracks the band ever released, and certainly not songs you might expect from a band of this high caliber, but more from a garage band “attempting” to sound professional.  This is definitely Ken Hensley at his most “uninspired” when it comes to songwriting—you can tell he was on the verge of leaving the band—an “either Byron gets canned or I leave in protest” statement if I ever heard one. Indeed, Side 2 stands about even with the horrific “Conquest” album that came several years later, just cringe-worthy overall, and the album that finally caused Hensley to flee for good.

To have such diverse collections of songs on opposite sides of this album is one of the most bizarre phenomena of this band’s career.

Therefore, Side 1 deserves plenty of praise, whereas Side 2 deserves all the slamming the world can conceive.  A shame, since (as mentioned earlier) the song “Weep In Silence” is probably amongst the Top 10, if not the Top 5, when it comes to the best Heep songs of all time.  It’s a shame that Byron’s last offering with the band is such a mixed bag, especially considering the previous album (Return To Fantasy) was one of their best.

Urban Tale – Urban Tale (2001)

UrbanTale_UrbanTale4 out of 5 Stars!

This truly is a band I’m liking more and more as I listen to their two better-than-average albums.

At first listen, I thought of them as a cross between Blanc Faces, FM, Place Vendome, or Survivor, but after further listening, I decided to add in a mix of Toto, Alias Eye, Saga, and even Steely Dan when it comes to the fine keyboard work, the sometimes-complicated arrangements, and even a few light jazz influences on several tracks.

Overall, this band, on both albums, shows top-notch professionalism, from the melodic songs to the stellar production to the performances by all the musicians.

Every AOR fan should check out this band!

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Unified Past – Shifting the Equilibrium (2015)

UnifiedPast_Shifting4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Shifting the Equilibrium is an outrageously enjoyable album by New York band Unified Past, a group featuring guitarist extraordinaire Stephen Speelman on guitar/keys, dexterous bassist Dave Mickelson, and thundering drummer Victor Tassone, not to mention the newest addition to the band, Mr. Phil Naro (Druckfarben/Talas/D Drive/Backhand, etc.), who provides the jaw-dropping vocals.

The music on Shifting the Equilibrium, the band’s most recent album, initially reminded me of classic Yes, especially since Naro has a similar range and vocal quality as Jon Anderson (although he does have a gruffer delivery), but with an updated, more spirited “take” on the Yes style of Symphonic Prog. Therefore, imagine Yes with heavier (almost Prog-Metal) guitars, a slamming rhythm section, and Keith Emerson-like keyboards when it comes to various synth tones during the solos and fills. Or perhaps imagine the usually keyboard-heavy sound of the defunct group Cairo, but with an equal balance of both guitar and keyboards.

Regardless, Unified Past is a talented lot with (generally) its own sophisticated sound. The melodies are catchy, the vocal harmonies grand, the songs occasionally complex, and the musicianship always stellar. So basically, this is one dreadfully obscure band to watch and to pray that the “big time” ain’t too far into the future for these deserving guys.

Wake up, Earth’s Prog-Rock fans, to Unified Past…especially since I have it on good authority (I’m proud to call these talented dudes my FB buddies) that a new album is being created even as I type this updated review of an amazing album.

 

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