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Very 'Eavy...Very 'Umble

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  • I’ve known about Uriah Heep for a long time and probably heard some of their songs while growing up in the 70s, but I never owned any of their albums. Liking bands from the late 60s like Cream, Deep Purple, and Blind Faith, I recently ordered some CDs from several groups including Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, Captain Beyond, and King Crimson. I like Very ‘eavy, Very ‘umble. It is a good hard rock album with decent melodies, good singing and playing, and lots of energy. But the album lacks the spice that would have earned it 5 stars. In contrast, I think the debut albums from Wishbone Ash and Captain Beyond are outstanding and exciting albums. (I view “In the Court of the Crimson King” by King Crimson as well-played and innovative, but kind of dull.)

    I think the reviewers who trashed it when it came out were quite unfair. One review in the CD’s booklet suggested that fans of heavy music should listen to Jeff Beck, Cream, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Mountain, the Velvet Underground, and Deep Purple instead. I think this points to the problem with the album which is that it just didn’t have its own distinctive sound. I think Uriah Heep’s 5 man format and use of Ken Hensley’s Hammond organ probably made them sound like a Deep Purple imitation. (While Deep Purple had not yet released their famous In Rock, Fireball, or Machine Head albums, they had released their first 3 studio albums with singer Rod Evans by June, 1969.) Aside from this, another weakness is that this album does not have any guitar solos that stand up against the wizardry of Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore. But the critics really were unfair.

    “Gypsy” is a high-powered track that compares well with many Deep Purple tracks. (Ironically, DP had a song called “Gypsy” on their 1974 Stormbringer album.) David Byron’s vocals are excellent here and throughout the album. Ken Hensley gives a powerful organ solo reminiscent of many John Lord solos from Deep Purple. His playing might very well be original, but critics and fans might have viewed it as derivative. Mick Box follows this with a short guitar solo; but neither it nor any of his other solos really light any fires. But, overall, this is a good heavy metal song, one of the strongest on the album.

    The second song, “Walking in Your Shadow”, features some very nice bass playing from Paul Newton who lays down good bass lines on most of the songs. Mick Box does a fine guitar solo, but nothing special.

    One of the gems on the album is the sensitive cover of the anti-war ballad, “Come Away Melinda” by the 50s folk group, The Weavers. I like that the engineers recorded David Byron on different channels for the parts of the girl and her father.

    “Lucy Blues” is a nice blues number, but nothing special.

    “Dreammare”, “Real Turned On”, “I’ll Keep on Trying”, and “Wake Up (Set Your Sights)” are heavier numbers, more in the vein of “Gypsy” and “Walking in Your Shadow”. “Dreammare” is somewhat psychedelic and is one of the strongest tracks on the album. “Real Turned On” has inane lyrics, but nice dual guitars from Box and Hensley. “I’ll Keep on Trying” starts out with more atmosphere than “Real Turned On”, but gets kind of soupy in the middle, almost sounding like the group Bad Finger, before going heavy again with the album’s best guitar solo from Mick Box. The final song from the original British version of the album, “Wake Up(Set Your Sights)”, delivers good energy and atmosphere with a plea for justice; it’s the most thoughtful song on the album.

    The 2003 version of the CD gives a bunch of extra cuts including two new songs and variations of the others. The new ones are the intense “Bird of Prey” and the peculiar “Born in a Trunk” which has strange lyrics but rocks. “Bird of Prey” was put on the American version of the album instead of “Lucy Blues”. British fans had to wait for the Heep’s second album, Salisbury. The liner notes indicate that this version is different from the one on Salisbury.

    Overall, this is a good hard rock album, but it lacks the spice that would have earned it 5 stars.

    Posted on February 27, 2010