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Gentle Giant - Free Hand  CD (album) cover

FREE HAND

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

4.26 | 997 ratings

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Peter
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Admittedly, many prog rock fans with otherwise excellent taste in music find Gentle Giant rather hard to get into. Their music certainly is challenging, and very varied in flavour. At times it evokes Medieval music, at other times there are a cappella vocals delivered in a quasi-"round" format, in company with passages that veer from moments of delicate beauty to "rocking out." All of these musical paths, and more, are often explored within the space of a single song. (Of course, that could be part of a generic description of progressive rock.) Gentle Giant have an inimitable style that is difficult to categorize; they must be heard to be understood. Perhaps only those with the most open musical minds will find them at all accessible. Certainly, though major players of the 70s prog scene, "Giant" never fully rose above their cult status to approach the popularity and critical acclaim of contemporaries like Genesis, Yes, ELP, Pink Floyd or Jethro Tull. (Though Gentle Giant don't really sound like any of those heavyweights, their music bears a somewhat closer resemblance to that of 'Tull, than any of the others mentioned.)

As I observed, Gentle Giant are not exactly the most approachable band in the prog universe; their music tends to invoke extreme love or hate reactions from first-time listeners. With that caveat out of the way, I would urge those who are curious about the band, or simply those who are in search of "something completely different," to start with this excellent recording. "Free Hand" encapsulates Gentle Giant's sound at the top of its form. It is not as "difficult" as "The Power and the Glory" (its excellent predecessor) or "Interview" (its good, but uneven successor), nor as commercial as later efforts.

The overall sound of the disc (if G.G. can be said to have an "overall" sound) is driven by keyboards, electric guitar, violin, and the unique "vocal stylings" of lead singer Derek Shulman and company.

The album, fittingly enough for this mold-breaking group, is loosely written around the theme of individual choice and freedom. The songs are all very good, but, to my taste, the title track, "His Last Voyage" and "Time to Kill" are particularly effective. (I still get a kick out of the sound of the "Pong" game at the beginning of the latter track: if, like me, you can remember when Pong was a cutting-edge video game -- indeed, the ONLY video game -- then you're showing your age....) Highly recommended to fans, and to those with sufficiently eclectic and diverse tastes to "get it."

Peter | 5/5 |

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