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Gentle Giant - Free Hand  CD (album) cover

FREE HAND

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

4.26 | 999 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

NetsNJFan
Prog Reviewer
5 stars 4.5 Stars --- Gentle Giant's 1975 offering, FREE HAND shows a distinct step towards a harder rock sound after somewhat softer (more acoustic) previous efforts. This hard- rock and complex prog sound was a complete success on FREE HAND, and it marked Gentle Giant's commercial apex; FREE HAND reaching #48 in the USA. Artistically, this would also be their plateau, as they would follow with the excellent INTERVIEW (1976), before sliding into oblivion. Derek Shulman has never sounded more like a rock singer than hear, and his soul and R&B background give him extreme depth and power. His voice is utilized really well, as on the whole, the vocal harmonies are less complex on this album than other Gentle Giant efforts. The instrumentation is less adventurous on FREE HAND than say OCTOPUS or THREE FRIENDS, obviously going for more of a rock sound, but it loses none of the beloved complexity and depth of Gentle Giant's unique baroque-rock sound.

The album opens extremely strongly with "Just the Same" with a simple piano pattern which builds up, slowly allowing other instruments to join in, before we are hit with the full force of Derek's voice. This is a great up tempo rocker with excellent and diverse keyboards from Kerry Minnear. The song degenerates into a Jazzy break (as only Gentle Giant can do) before returning to the original vocals. The song closes fingers snapping, just as it begun. This song is extremely catchy for prog, and will leave you with your fingers snapping as well. It makes an excellent opening, and also opens their landmark live album PLAYING THE FOOL (1976). The next piece (Gentle Giant composes and arranges pieces, they don't write songs) is "On Reflection". "On Reflection" is a trademark Gentle Giant vocal experiment in the vein of "Knots", but this time taking on the form of a medieval fugue in four parts. This is one of their most successful tracks with ultra complex, layered vocal harmonies, alternating between extremely jarring section and profoundly beautiful moments. Gentle Giant handles this song very professionally for such a complex structure. Not many (read: any) bands could pull this off other than GG. Side one closes with the excellent title track, "Free Hand". This is much in the vein of the opening "Just the Same" but is more complex. It is an incredibly tight and complex piece, and the band doesn't miss a note. Bass player Ray Shulman and drummer John weathers turn in especially good performances on the intricate instrumental middle section. While this song is prog to the complex max, it never loses its rock roots, and is very catchy and enjoyable.

Side B kicks off with the rollicking "Time to Kill". This is closest the band comes to rock, but it still maintains their trademark 'sound', and is incredibly enjoyable. The backing vocals take over towards the end of the track, and makes for an incredible ending. The next track is one of the more beautiful Gentle Giant songs, it is an acoustic ballad (in the literary sense of the word) full of diverse instrumentation and delicate vocals. After some layered vocals by the band members, this song picks up pace, gaining momentum, ending in a soulful guitar solo by Gary Green, with a wonderful undercurrent of Kerry's piano running through almost unnoticed. After the previous five tracks (all essential GG) the album loses steam. "Talybont" is fun and short medieval style instrumental, and is almost reminiscent of Jethro Tull Focus, (especially Jan Akkerman solo) but features much more complex instrumentation. Throughout this song one can hear cymbals, flutes, , harpsichord, etc. The percussion is a highlight. This track was originally intended for a soundtrack to a Robin Hood movie which never materialized. This track is pretty and enjoyable, but not essential GG. The album closes with its weakest track (never a good idea), with "Mobile". This is another attempt at fusing hard rock with renaissance style instrumentation, and is less successful than other tracks. The violin by Ray Shulman is an especial highlight, but by this point, one feels they have heard this stuff before, "Just the Same" etc. The song is good, but Gentle Giant could do better, especially for a rather short album; 36 minutes.

FREE HAND is a great album, and is one of Gentle Giant's most accessible. It marks a great place for newbies to the intricate renaissance-rock that is Gentle Giant. This is on of their most sonically unified albums, and easily earns a rating of 4.5 STARS. (It would be 5, but this is no OCTOPUS or IN A GLASS HOUSE, which are also highly recommended to those more familiar with GG's music).

NetsNJFan | 5/5 |

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