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Uriah Heep - Salisbury CD (album) cover


Uriah Heep


Heavy Prog

4.19 | 824 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Review 63, Salisbury, Uriah Heep, 1971


It is, on occasion, startling how much a group can develop in the space of an album. The substantial space in both style and quality between From Genesis To Revelation and Trespass, or The Yes Album and Fragile ('rawr') illustrate this. So does Uriah Heep's second offering, the superb Salisbury. Aside from really sorting out the harmonies and adding a modicum of tasteful delicacy that Very 'Eavy Very 'Umble generally lacked, the band have both really excelled in producing strong, soft songs and in spreading their wings in a surprising number of directions rather than redredging and developing the more successful material of the predecessor.

Aside from the most obvious artistic leaning, which is a sixteen minute-long suite that includes both brass and woodwind session musicians, the folk tastes of Lady In Black and bizarre vocal choices suggest a band that is genuinely making an effort to move beyond their heavy blues background, and hitting the mark brilliantly. The album isn't quite perfect, with a couple of less fascinating moments, but it is damned good, and should be a part of every discerning progger's collection.

The opener Bird Of Prey shows off the features of the new and improved Uriah Heep: a range of heavy, but non-dominating riffs, superb and eclectic vocals and harmonies, and a set of great lyrics to go with them. The piece opens quite neatly with a guitar-based rhythm complimented with Ken Hensley's classy organ flourishes, while David Byron demonstrates his high, rounded, and, on occasion, screechy vocals and ability to fit into and leap off harmonies. The rhythm section provides a solid background for this, changing as the leads do. Of especial greatness, however, is the kicking guitar/organ riff that breaks out towards the end, occasionally pausing for a harmonised 'ah' at a whim. A good opener, and a formidable statement of intent.

The following The Park is much softer as a song, with high and almost female vocal from Byron with complimentary harmonies. Hensley takes up his turn on vibes as well as a softer organ part, while Mick Box contributes absolutely lush acoustic melodies and Paul Newton's edgeless bass throbs an echo of the vocals. The lyrical content is superb and in a rather folky anti-war style without any of the unfortunate myopic and self-righteous ring that I get from some folk sources. Again, quirk sets in, with a bizarre organ-bass duet accompanied by quiet background noises and some decent percussion ideas. A final verse rounds off the piece nicely. Again, superb, but in a very different style.

The somewhat heavier Time To Live is perhaps my favourite piece of the album, and David Byron alone basically explains that. After a rather wallowing, though punchy opening, the piece breaks out into full flow with wah-wah and slide guitar of the highest level, a classy riff, gorgeous organ swells and a simply incredible rounded vaguely bluesy vocal with forceful, soft and almost sultry alternations, as well as some good plain Tina-Turner-like screeching. The lyrical content, though simple, is nonetheless superbly phrased, and the two insane wah-wah solos from Mick Box are unforgettable.

Lady In Black, the album's hit (and, if I remember correctly, the biggest commercial success of Uriah Heep) is almost unexpected. Aside from the neatly edgy folk lyrics and enormo-harmony-ificated vocals, the song features a good acoustic riff substantiated later on with heavier and yet completely unintrusive guitars and subtle piano additions, as well as a weird sliding bass thing. Mellotron, if I'm not totally mistaken, features subtly at one point. An odd piece, as it is both stripped down and built up at different points with no stress, and, interesting though it is, I don't find it all that stunning in an emotional way.

High Priestess, after this, is a slightly more conventional effort, although quite a good hard rock song with bursting guitars and a strong vocal, if rather unconvincing lyrical content. The mass harmonies are introduced to good effect, and a kicking rhythm section is never left behind too much. Unfortunately, it does wear a little thin by the end, and seems to be being simply run into the ground. There's nothing really blatantly wrong with it, it's just not convincing to my ears.

Salisbury, however, is a completely different story altogether. Right from the opening, aside from the lush use of oboes and various brass instruments which I can't separate well enough to justify it, Ken Hensley's organ takes on a monstrous power of its own, and the guest orchestra accomplishes its role perfectly, somehow sliding fittingly into what is essentially a big rock song, complete with a neat start-and-stop drum style and some glowing guitar and bass work. David Byron's vocal entrance is incredibly moving, soft and potent, though on a couple of very brief occasions it wanders a little too far into the land of cheese.

The kicking rock riffs and orchestral integration are pretty unique and integral to the song, which somehow uses both the classical melodies from the orchestra and standard organ or guitar soloing without one ever pushing out the other. The level of integration is simply stunning, and Paul Newton's directional bass provides another charming texture. Some incredibly funky (I mean that in the nicest possible sense of the word) riffs from Hensley add extra flavour, as do the more dejected vocals of Byron's developing story ('well we tried/Our love inside/just crumpled up and died') and breathtaking harmonies. The sheer emotive power of his exhorting 'alone again! How could you leave me alone again? I don't wanna be alone again!' needs to be heard, and I have no doubt that even those more exclusively heading into the 'symphonic' realm, who might be inclined to avoid bands so linked to hard rock, should not miss the overall majesty, effect and quality of Salisbury. Mick Box's explosive guitar solo is also vital listening. An unmissable piece, no matter how often I say that.

Now, bonus material in a line-per-song summary. Simon The Bullet Freak: Great, awesome bass and piano riff, great vocals, a good developed blues piece. Might not have heard the original. Here Am I: urk, a little repetitive and ineffectual, with an irritating harmony. Some great moments, though. The rest is essentially slightly altered versions and single cuts from the album, and though all sound perfectly decent, there aren't really any I'd instantly snatch over the original. Ending with Time to Live, though, is just a superb idea.

So, overall, this falls barely short of the masterpiece mark, but on occasion it does lack and the unimpressive High Priestess is a small drag on the album. Certainly essential listening, though, and the album's biggest highs (ending of The Park, Time To Live, Salisbury) are amazing. Recommended to all, and the devotion it receives is entirely deserved.

Rating: Four Stars Favourite Track: Time To Live or Salisbury. It changes depending on the exact moment of each that I'm listening to.

TGM: Orb | 4/5 |


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