You Had Me at `Play'

Altitude Via Luxury (Independent)
High Road Crown

By Jason Daniel

High Road Crown's CD landed in my lap just a few days before deadline, so I was fortunate that this was one of those albums that grabs your ear from the first listen.

This group of Kentucky boys plays hard rock with an emphasis on the melody and one foot set in the '70s, when guitars reigned supreme and the tones used were raw.

At times, vocalist Heath O'Brien's voice bears an uncanny resemblance to Goth-rock icon Peter Murphy. An unlikely comparison, sure, but O'Brien's low, ominous tone and articulate phrasing give these songs an edge lacking in much of modern rock. Adding to this mystique is the fact that O'Brien is a Louisville firefighter, which provides him with some lyrical inspiration, as in the standout opening track "Sour Grapes," which builds (much like an arsonist's fire) from slow verses about fire-fascination to a great chorus hook. This segues nicely into "Shuteye," an acoustic ballad featuring some melancholy harmonica work and tastefully restrained guitar solos, which is followed by "Fit To Be Tied," a roaring rocker that proves once again why the wah-pedal is still the coolest guitar effect ever made.

By the time I got to the opening chords of "Hear What?," the album's fourth track, I wasn't sure what to expect - always a good sign. Even the requisite drinking song, "Footstomp 2 for 1," pulled some surprises (love the Bambi Bar reference) and rocked like vintage Aerosmith. This track also showed off this band's secret weapon: drummer Jason Lakes. He shows a ton of versatility on these seven tracks - I found myself wishing he had been featured more prominently in the CD's mix.

High Road Crown has played it smart by releasing a well-paced CD of seven songs that leaves the listener wanting more. Two days after getting the disc, I was on their website checking for shows. By placing an emphasis on crafting tight songs that manage to sound familiar but new at the same time, they certainly made me a fan.