Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Highway 4 Reaches For Classic Status With "Up In Arms"

"Don't judge a book by its cover," they say.

In drawing a connection between literature and music, could this axiom be adapted to say "Don't judge a band by its genre?"

With Western Pennsylvania band Highway 4 and their new album, Up In Arms, I think it could.

Let me explain...

The band is referred to quite appropriately as classic rock.  Personally, I'm not that big of a classic rock fan.  I just don't seek out new music classified as classic rock.

That might have meant that I wouldn't have given Highway 4's music a chance to penetrate my ear holes.  But I'm glad I did.  There is something about the band's take on the genre that makes Up In Arms more than just a mere sonic museum celebrating a style whose bones were encased in fossils long ago.

Sure, Angus Young devotees will appreciate the guitar work of Mike Angert, who channels the Australian schoolboy six-stringer's chord preferences and tone quite authentically.  And there are the song constructs, which steer clear of today's fill-every-space-with-vocals-and-maybe-even-rap-a-little formulas.

But what separates Highway 4 from their contemporaries in the classic rock circle is the vocals of Kelly Brown.

In the first couple of songs, it's evident that she delivers more grit and substance than a yellowed-with-age carbon copy of Pat Benatar.  But she waxes a little metallic a la Halestorm's Lzzy Hale on the heavier-but-just-south-of-metal third track, "Come Down."  It had me fantasizing about what her voice would sound like against a heavier musical tapestry.

Though Brown's voice is the centerpiece of this release, there's enough spotlight to go around for the entire band on "One of These Days" - a tune that should follow latter day Bon Jovi on any radio station that plays artists of that ilk.

Despite being an independent release and a 12-song opus - two characteristics that often have listeners hitting the eject button before the disc is over - Up In Arms is an entertaining masterpiece from start to finish.  In fact, some of the best tracks are found late in the album where filler usually coagulates. 

"Somewhere Caught In The Middle" lets Brown flirt with the top of her impressive range during the chorus.  And "Where's Your Faith?" ends the album with a song as soulful as its title is interesting.

If you're like me and classic rock isn't your first choice of musical destinations, you still may wanna park your Spotify account on Highway 4 anyway.  Up In Arms shouldn't just be labeled classic rock - it should be labeled as one of the classic releases in Western Pennsylvania music history.

# of Facebook page "Likes" for Highway 4 at the time of this writing:  2,852.

Helping Hands Rock Reviews prides itself on discovering great bands just before they break.  We record the number of Facebook Likes to watch our favorite artists grow and to track how far we are ahead of the curve.