CD Review of Blood on the Highway by Ken Hensley
Recommended if you like
Uriah Heep, Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes
Label
Politur/Universal
Ken Hensley:
Blood on the Highway

Reviewed by R. David Smola

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I
n interviews, Ken Hensley refers to this autobiographical album as a rock opus. It’s really a rock opera, in that different voices play characters and bring a linear story to life through song. Rock operas are fairly rare these days. They are as frequent as a knuckle ball in the majors, because they are difficult to execute and can be really ineffective if not performed correctly. Blood on the Highway provides a familiar rock star story arc, especially for those who have seen any installments of VH1’s “Behind the Music” series. Young, hungry band works hard, parties hard, tops the charts, meets the evil, greedy manager, receives divisive advice from band wives, you get the picture. As clichéd as the story may sound, the music is absolutely spectacularly executed.

This is the freshest-sounding classic rock album I have heard in years. The production and engineering is spot on in that the vocals and instrumentation are mixed perfectly. There is a lot of classic Uriah Heep within the sound of the record, which makes sense, given that Hensley was the keyboardist and one of the primary songwriters for the band during Heep’s commercial and creative heyday (1970-1980). Several times throughout the album, there are little pieces of Uriah Heep within the music, like a few bars of “Free Me” included in “We’re On Our Way,” that distinctive organ sound and those trademark background vocals. But the music is not dated; there is some real creative mixing and matching. A little of the bass riff from Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” serves the title track well. The voices that sing the songs fit the material perfectly. European voice for hire, Jorn Lande, leads or co-leads five of the tracks in fine voice. Uriah Heep alumnus John Lawton sings “It Won’t Last” and Glenn Hughes lends his magic to the soulful “What You Gonna Do” and the album closer, “The Last Dance” – the latter a simply beautiful track featuring the Alicante Symphony on strings accompanying Hughes’ signature vocals as the curtain closes on Hensley’s story.

Yes, we have heard this fable before (like the brilliant Shaming of the True by Kevin Gilbert) and it is not revolutionary in any way. Even if covering familiar terrain subject wise, Blood on the Highway is absolutely delightful to the ear and the singing and musicianship are top notch. Looks like I found another record for my top ten of the year.

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