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Gentle Giant - Free Hand CD (album) cover


Gentle Giant

Eclectic Prog

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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."

Report this review (#6176)
Posted Sunday, January 4, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars Even though In A Glass House is acknowledged by many as Gentle Giant's "best" album, Free Hand is without a doubt my personal favorite. Which is of course to say that it is one of my top 2 or 3 most treasured albums of all time. Simultaneously their most dense, complex, mechanically flawless album AND their most melodic, beautiful and accessible -- Free Hand thus represents a magical occurrence in their catalog like none other. Let's see, for starters, "On Reflection" is hands-down the most complex vocal arrangement in all of rock music, bringing Kerry Minnear's choral writing to its absolute pinnacle of genius. Some people may construe this as "too technical" but I simply shake my head at them in disbelief; this is one of the most achingly beautiful songs they ever recorded, and when the "fugal jam" kicks in at the end, I can hardly keep my head from exploding with joy. If that's not enough already, next comes chugging in the title track "Free Hand". At this point, my head goes and explodes. "Free Hand" is the most mind-blowingly perfect musical machine Gentle Giant ever constructed, filled with ticking clockwork keyboard figures and interweaving guitar and bass parts and skwonking piano chords and start-stop time changes and, and... three words: pure musical perfection. Then there's "His Last Voyage", which has at times been my favorite song ever written. I don't know where those melodies and sounds and voices came from, but they existed before time and they call me back to some distant memory that leaves me filled with joy and reverence for the sublime power of music. Thank you, Gentle Giant. So here I've just described three songs, but the remaining four are each in their own way a magical experience, with "Time to Kill" and "Just the Same" taking top billing. If you have any respect for the sincere blessings of this devout music fan, go do yourself a big favor and buy this album and listen to it for the first time. Or, pull it out of your record collection and listen to it again as if for the first time. One of the peak musical achievements our times have witnessed.
Report this review (#6174)
Posted Saturday, January 17, 2004 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars 3,5 stars really!!

Out of the whole of GG's discography Free Hand was the album that sold most (even reached chart position 26 in the UK), the band reaching even some kind of success across the pond by touring extensively the new world (and having great success in Quebec even headlining the sold-out Montreal Forum), but mistakes would again be done by forgetting to tour UK (and even cancelling a tour for no apparent valid reasons) following the commercial success.

However, this album is aiming even further at distancing themselves from their earlier more acoustic material, the only thing being acoustic on this album are the sax, cello and violin (when they are used), but this is really noticeable in an overview of the few albums of the mid-70's. The other major but minor complaint I have about this album is the systematic and by now mechanical constant tempo changes sometimes clearly done for the sake of it than by necessity or artistic choices. Don't get me wrong, the general quality of the tracks are still your typically GG , but by now this being their seventh studio album , the formula is so well established that it now seems a bit exhausted and the inspiration borders on a business-as-usual impression that was already making itself felt by TP&TG album, but it is more distinct now!

There are still some superb moments on the album such as the delightful last Voyage and Time To Kill, as well as the title track, but on the whole I end up relatively (slightly?) bored. I also realize that I represent a small minority among GG fans , especially given that I prefer the next album Interview.

Report this review (#6168)
Posted Tuesday, February 24, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars Another winner!! OK there are some weaker breaks through,but nevertheless here you find some of their best moments of music invention. Of course regarding of the best vocal performance ever- "On Reflection" - an incredible polyphonic excursion by means of all the vocals (a beautiful modern "Baroque" game) the present album- as it contains moreover a perfect balance concerning the melodic lines- is memorable. Besides you find the excellent title track as well as fine solos at the keyboards: the music covers a lot of styles, including the Medieval music and to me that's enough to regard this one as an unforgettable number!!

Highly recommended!!

Report this review (#6175)
Posted Thursday, April 1, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars While better known prog rock bands (ELP, KING CRIMSON, YES) were visibly running out of steam, GENTLE GIANT continued to stay on their original course, sharpening their skills and releasing consistently excellent albums quietly and (seemingly) effortlessly. As fans might expect, "Free Hand" is a further tightening up of the music found on their last album, "The Power and The Glory", leaving the concept behind and focusing on bright, medieval-tinged rock replete with the clever twists and tortuous passages that fans had come to expect. Whether you regard the band's music by now as idiomatic or merely formulaic, they bring the same skills to bear on every song, which prevents a "hit" or representative track from emerging but also provides uniform pleasure from end to end. The largely vocal exercise, "On Reflection", does stand out; the impassioned "Free Hand" and the languid "The Last Voyage" are impressive ends of the spectrum; even the instrumental "Talybont" has too much personality to be dismissed as a mere medieval interlude.

"Free Hand" remains as concise a case for their talents as any album; Rolling Stone even rated it the band's best album (although their view of progressive rock came through a distorted lens). Apparently, the band liked the album enough to use it as a template for their next release, "Interview".

Report this review (#6177)
Posted Tuesday, April 27, 2004 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars 'Free hand' is not only Gentle Giant's best known album, but also one of their definite masterpieces, as well as the perfect introduction for the newbie: some of the band's catchiest tunes are included here, yet the repertoire comprises the usual demanding level of clever complexity and undefatigable inventiveness. GG doesn't need to meander through long-side suites or three-part epics. These guys can handle tracks incapsulated under the 5-6 minute duration, and infuse them with genius and intensity; they use the structures of R'n'B ('Just the Same', 'Time to Kill'), jazz-rock ('Free Hand') and Celtic festival ('Mobile') and refurbish them through massive progressive reconstructions. Besides these pyrotechnical themes, there lie some others that are oriented toward more subtle realms: the Mediaeval vocal/instrumental polyphonics of 'On Reflection', the tender melancholy of 'His Last Voyage', and the high spirit of 'Talybont' show us that the gentle side of this Prog Giant is also filled with defiant sophistication. All these tracks (or at least, almost all of them) are highlights for their own merits. Yet, let me mention a few brilliant moments: the choral intro of 'On Reflection'; the recurring counterparts and countermelodies of the title track; the overall serenity of 'His Last Voyage' conveyed in both the vocal parts and the subdued guitar solo; the explosive wah-wah violin in 'Mobile'. Now, in general terms, Derek Shulman's voice works impressively as an integral part of GG's sound, and the ensemble's musicianship is technically superb as well as perfectly integrated. Kerry Minnear's keyboard's arsenal works as an "orchestra" in many occasions, and Weather's drumming exhibits an immaculate finesse that can't be properly grasped by words (or at least, this reviewer's words). I'll leave it to the listener to give their own verdict: mine is "masterpiece/essential".

Report this review (#6180)
Posted Tuesday, June 8, 2004 | Review Permalink
Man With Hat
Jazz-Rock/Fusion/Canterbury Team
5 stars 4.5 stars would be more accurate. But, as with their previous albums, this is an excellent example of progressive rock and should be owned by prog fans.

Coming off the highly successful The Power And The Glory, Free Hand takes a similar formula and take it off in a different direction. Slightly stripped down instrumentation, perhaps more traditionally rock, but no real loss of complexity or prog. The first three songs are all GG classics. On Reflection deserves special mention as being the one song I would recommend someone listen to if they really wanted to know what Gentle Giant were all about. All the trademarks are there, none of it feels rehashed or uninspired, and it's performed flawlessly. Talybont is the other real standout track with some incredible playing by Kenny M. A truly modern day medieval classic. The other songs are not as good, but His Last Voyage is certainly true to form Gentle Giant. Time To Kill is a fun little rocker, and Mobile, is probably the least successful song on the album, which is unfortunately being it's the closer, but it doesn't diminish what proceeded it.

All in all, this is a top notch album from a top notch prog band. This is the last studio album I'd give a 5 star rating to (even though Interview is excellent in it's own right) and in many people's eyes the last true classic from The Boys In The Band. I don't know if I agree with that exactly, but I do agree that this is an album that if you've been on PA for more than 3 months you need to have immediately. Highly recommended.

Report this review (#6181)
Posted Wednesday, September 15, 2004 | Review Permalink
3 stars I always found it difficult to conceptualise Gentle Giant. The totality of their musicianship was unique, they could mix hard rock themes with Elizabethan undertones and chants. They could introduce passages of avant garde, which they very successfully blended into the opening track of the album. They were tight, complex, and sometimes you get the feeling a set of instructions should be provided to follow their music. Of their many releases before their end 70s demise, Free Hand is the best. It is an album of contrasts from the melodic, unsophisticated 'On Reflection' to jazz-rock ('Free Hand') with many other refreshingly different moods which probably need several listens-to- to fully appreciate.
Report this review (#6182)
Posted Wednesday, September 29, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is GG's FRAGILE, their DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, their RUNES. It's the album that has been the most successful gateway album for band fans. The music is top-notch, really brilliant and mature, and yet not as twitchy as some of their previous works. They finally got their sound "down". Again, this doesn't sound dated, which is very important to modern fans. It's a prefectly flawless album from start to finish.
Report this review (#6184)
Posted Tuesday, November 16, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars After a very varied and hugely interesting series of albums so far 'Free Hand' sums it all up; the adventurousness of their first four combined with the rock solid complexety of 'In a Glass House' and 'Power and the Glory'. Oddly, this was one of the last GG albums I acquired from their golden period but also one of my most listened. It's arguably their most melodic album to date and the brilliant opening track "Just the Same" really gets you going the whole day and could be a potential prog single. "On Reflection" is the most memorable track here and in my opinion overshadowes "Knots" from 'Octopus' in the vocal arrangmements, lacking the avant-garde but is extremely effective in it's beautiness. The album somewhat looses focus on the second side but ends on a high note with the bouncy and medevial hard rocker "Mobile" that is reminiscent of Jethro Tull during their folk-rock phase at the end of the 70's. Comparing these two bands, it's no doubt that Ian Anderson and the Shulman brothers listened and learned alot from eachother.

If you are unsure of where to start with this band, I think this one should do it. A full package of complexity, great hooks and lot's of listening pleasure. It looses it slightly at the end but those songs also are of a very high standard. 4.5/5

Report this review (#6185)
Posted Saturday, December 4, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Merry Christmas!

Background -- In recent discussion with my prog guru: Andy Julias, prog music producer (Discus) and Chairman of IPS (Indonesian Progressive Society) I was amazed with the topic we discussed. It was about choir and vocal harmony in rock music. We discussed about many types of vocal harmony from groups like Yes, Gentle Giant, Queen and Hamadryad (Canada). What surprised me was the fact that Andy gave an example of Gentle Giant's "On Reflection" by really emulating it very close to the original tune. It really struck me. I know that one of Gentle Giant strength is in its vocal harmony besides its complex and avant garde composition. Then I realized that I have not reviewed this masterpiece album.

Album Review.

It has been a great challenge for me to review classic bands with a music of their own identity. The difficulties rely on what sort of benchmarks should I use for review as they were pioneers of the kind of music they played. Gentle Giant is no exception. Can you compare it with Spock's Beard? Definitely "no" as they live in different time. But, for sure , Spock's Beard was influenced by Gentle Giant. Even though the band disbanded in 1980 but the soul of their music is still around us nowadays.

About this album, let me ask you: "How prog are you?" If you are a prog lover, this album is a must in your collection. If you are new to prog, you must buy this album. The band has inspired many bands on planet earth and no one has successfully similar to their original music. The music might be a bit complex at first listen but I'm sure it would grow significantly after 8 spins. But if you can enjoy the album before it reaches 8, you are blessed with good prog ears and you should continue your journey with all Gentle Giant's albums and other prog bands.

"Just The Same" kicks off with a staggering piano solo and great voice line followed with an avant garde beat music. The music relatively discrete at the opening and it turns continuous at the interlude with sort of spacey keyboard. The solo keyboard is really amazing. The solo ends up with electric guitar rhythm and returns back to the original tagline melody. The harmony of keyboard and saxophone is intricate. It's a superb music!

As I mentioned above "On Reflection" has a powerful choir / vocal harmony in a capella backed with some percussive and vibes during opening. This opening is really excellent! The choir is then continued with single voice line by Derek accompanied with discrete keyboard, violin and woodwind (flute) works. Some backing voice at the end of the bars accentuate the song. The keyboard sound augments the vocal line nicely. Dynamic drumming ends the song brilliantly. The compositional quality of this song is top notch even though it's complex in structure.

"Free Hand" starts off with a harmonious work combining keyboard sounds and bass line. The rocking vocal enters the music in upbeat tempo with continuous music. The solo keyboard and bass performed excellently during quiet segment of the song. The interlude part indicates the complexity of Gentle Giant music. No matter complex the music is, the band has successfully maintained the intricate harmony of multi instruments used.

The next track "Time To Kill" is even more rocking with its complex composition and dynamic rhythm and melody. The opening sound indicates a tidy harmony of bass, keyboard and guitar and a simple melody followed by a discrete guitar score. It flows with the music that brings vocal into main body. Some transitions have a quieter music with sort of discrete bass, keyboard, guitar and drums. Another excellent composition by the band.

"His Last Voyage" opens with an avant garde mood using bass, vibes (played wonderfully) followed by acoustic guitar that accompanies voice line. There are some influence of jazz and classical music. The beginning of this song is performed in ambient style exploring jazzy bass and vibes with relatively slow tempo.. The music then flows continuously in the middle of the track by the appearance of drumming. Piano at background is played in jazz style. The solo guitar is really stunning - it continues with a complex organ sound until the music returns back to original rhythm and tagline melody. "Talybont" is short instrumental with keyboard / clavinet and woodwind dominate the scene accompanied with percussive and bass. The woodwind and clavinet sounds indicate a classical music influence. It also reminds me to Rick Van Der Linden's Trace as they shared similar vein in this part.. "Mobile" combines acoustic guitar, keyboard, violin nicely during opening. Again, the band has proven their talents to compose this complex composition with perfect harmony. Each instrument seems to play different than the others but it still produce an excellent harmony.

Conclusion: This is a masterpiece and a highly recommended album. All tracks stand-out firmly as original prog tunes. There is no such thing as mediocre track in this album. Rating: 5/5. GW, Indonesia.

Report this review (#6186)
Posted Sunday, December 26, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars Boy did I had a hard time to get this one. It seemed to slip through my littles fingers all those years. No beggie 'cause it's finally here, and I don't want to repeat myself but...this one's a keeper! I thought the Power and Glory format wasn't gonna last. I thought a much colder approach did not suit well the British Giant. But the same pattern's here and I must say that the departure of Phil Shulmann (my personnal favorite of the band) is not bothering me anymore. Okay, this pops and rocks harder but the keyboard work is less atmospheric and more rythmic, which is this case played by Minnear, is growing on me.

Also the many more folkish stuff is pretty satisfying (Talybont, His Last Voyage). Gentle Giant always knew how to make super medieval songs without baloney. Since Raconteur Troubadour we haven't seen much of that style. Hurray for that!

This is one is surprinsingly well done. Crisper and cleaner production; the band never sounded that tight since...ever. A logical following to Power and Glory, deeper in their new train of thought, without selling out or losing their core.

This album has an obvious relent of screw-up love stories. Dereck signs some pretty honest stuff in the Free Hand track. Anger, bitterness or jalousy, whatever he lived through, the song is a solid kick in the crouch to the person concerned.

Especially if you're a newbie, get this to get a good idea of the post Phil Shulmann period. Come join us, broken hearted and shout out loud: " Who would believe me now that my hands are free? That my hands are FREE!! Nobody's listening to the things you say. t To the things you SAY!!"

That's what I call a successful mission.

Report this review (#6187)
Posted Sunday, January 23, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Another GG classic. Very medieval influenced, remembers Renaissance a lot. I think it's a definitive starting point for those of you who are not familiar with this marvelous band yet. Highlights are: ON REFLECTION - really nice vocal harmonies, maybe even better than KNOTS. FREE HAND - defines GG sound very well. Weird time signatures... HIS LAST VOYAGE - one of the best GG tracks ever. TALYBONT - a small instrumental masterpiece As classic as THREE FRIENDS or OCTOPUS.
Report this review (#6188)
Posted Saturday, February 5, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars This is one of the best Gentle Giant album. Compared to the previous "Power & glory" album, "Free hand" is much better recorded and more addictive. Kerry Minnear uses sometimes more modern keyboards, often surprisingly floating, like on "Just the same" or "Free hand". He more than ever perfectly plays here delightful arrangements of piano, clavinet, Fender Rhohes, and organ. "Free hand" is an extremely structured album, complex with fresh & lively moods. "On reflection" is an outstanding exhibition of vocal synchronization in the form of a canon: no flaw noticed! John Weathers plays his percussion devices as often as his drums: the result is totally impressing, giving childish charm and enchantment to the ensemble. The bass is absolutely complex and not timid at all. The bass ABSOLUTELY participates to the infernal nervous communication between the keyboards and the electric guitar: it makes unbelievably complex and spectacularly synchronized patterns. The finesse of this album is legendary, also revealed by the miscellaneous tender lead & backing vocals, sometimes approaching Gregorian chants, like on "His last voyage". The ultimate tour the force is "Talybont", a joyful complex medieval track where harpsichord, wah wah guitars, flute, keyboards, bass and drums form a solid canon. It seems there is no violin, except on "Mobile", which sounds more rythmic prog hard rock, like on the previous albums.


Report this review (#6189)
Posted Thursday, February 10, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars "Free Hand" is GENTLE GIANT's last masterpiece. It's a good example of their mature and original style. Their strongest point is complex interplay between musicians, who altogether create a fascinating musical image.

"Just the Same" is a symphonic rock track with a typical witty feel of GG. Riffs sound somewhat funky and lively rhytmic. Middlesection has a calmer space passage and later a jazzy solo by the excellent keyboardist Kerry Minnear.

"On Reflection" starts with their trademark vocal polyphony inspired by renaissance a cappella music. The middle part has some elements in the style of medieval troubadours. Instrumentation is very interesting switching between acoustic and electric instruments. The track finishes with a lively instrumental interplay that is fading out much too soon. This track is a real delight in counterpoint melodies.

"Free Hand" is another diverse track with strange melodies and a lot of fun for a listener. They are one of the few prog bands that know how to make music extremely complex and at the same time very catchy, folky and witty music. Some dissonances on this album are reminding me of avant prog but they are never overemphasized.

"Time to Kill" is similar to the previous track. It's irresistable not to move and shake to this comlex jazzy grooves.

"His Last Voyage" is more in the polyphonic style of "On Reflection" again.

"Talybont" is the most folky track with colorful sound.

"Mobile" is a very complex track with a lot of interesting shifts.

Conclusion: A newbie listener may have a little trouble with high complexity of this music but there's nothing to be scared about. It wins your heart after a few listenings. It's a pitty that a trully progressive and unique band like this gets often unnoticed and ignored. Grab this prog masterpiece as soon as you can!

Report this review (#6192)
Posted Monday, April 4, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars record they first lp with very good ideas, and the masterpieces free hand and acquiring the taste are excepcional, octopus is also good, but i prefer the other two and the magnificient playing the fool that is the conceptual glove idea of a live disc that contains a lot of songs with great work like proclamation / on reflection, my english is very poor, i felt very bad for that, is you try to understand my you gonna like for too match the first gentle giant era, and maybe civilian, not as the missing piece or giant for a day, i dont know what happend with the band at that time, but these realises were very poor compared with the other albums. i felt lisen to these two album a litle bit sintetic myself beacause they look like empresarial realices not gentle giant ideas. finaly this review album decerves five star not four, you must to buy and enjoy i tell to me after.
Report this review (#6193)
Posted Wednesday, April 6, 2005 | Review Permalink
Cygnus X-2
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars I was very impressed by my first outing with Gentle Giant. This album really is an impressive spectacle of sound. The musicianship is solid and tight, playing with incredible structure. The tracks are intricate and difficult muscially, but never get too out of hand. The vocals are sultry and insane at the same time. The lyrics range from great to insightful. This is an incredible album. The Avante-Garde and jazziness of the album is inescapable, and the sound is irresistable.

The most notable tracks on the album are Just the Same, which begins effectively with finger snapping, which then leads into some simple piano from Minear, and slowly the rest of the group kicks into shape. Shulman's voice on this track and the rest of this album is among the best vocal performances I've ever heard. The piece concluded just as it began with finger snapping. My other favorite is Free Hand. This is one of the most complex songs on the album, but it is catchy and hooks you in from the moment Derek's voice comes in. The jazzy break down is also something only Gentle Giant can do.

Overall, this is a fantastic album that should be in everyone's collection. The songs on this album are all solid, and are among the most adventurous things they've ever done. 5/5.

Report this review (#6195)
Posted Sunday, May 22, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars My first Gentle Giant album, and a great introduction to the band. I love their use of vocal harmonies before going into the main part of the song, it adds a lot to the piece before you even get into the real music. The musicians are all great, including a some great bass playing. Not in its technicality, it just sounds good. The lyrics are not the best i've ever heard but, the way they are rhythmically placed over the rest of the band makes one not care about what they're saying. The best song are "Time to Kill," "Just the Same," and "Free Hand."

Anyone who listens to Yes or Genesis should definitely check out Gentle Giant.

Report this review (#39431)
Posted Thursday, July 14, 2005 | Review Permalink
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).

Report this review (#39438)
Posted Thursday, July 14, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Wow, the stars say it all, "A Masterpiece of Progressive Music!" I'm surprised these cats weren't as big as Genesis or Yes or whatever. They really take complex music and make it catchy. It's very fun and quirky, you don't need to be an advanced listener to enjoy it. My girlfriend hates most of my prog listening... this she likes.
Report this review (#39853)
Posted Wednesday, July 20, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Not much more to add with the above comments, only that it was the first album by GG that I bought after reading a review comparing them to Yes and Genesis. I remember being totally blown away. I never heard anything like them and they jumped to number one on my list of favorite bands. If you are new to them and want to explore their albums, by all means purchase this one first. It's their most accessable album with very beautiful synth runs by master Minnear, (title track, "Freehand"), great a cappella singing, ("On Reflection") and rocking tunes, ("Just The Same" & "Mobile"). Plus, with the 35th anniversary edition, gone is the flat sound. What you get is crystal clear production where every, and I mean every instrument is loud and clear. Just amazing! And on top of it all, a bonus live track from 1976 of "Just The Same". A perfect album from beginning to end. A five star masterpiece!
Report this review (#40337)
Posted Tuesday, July 26, 2005 | Review Permalink
Andrea Cortese
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars No many words to say on it: IMPREESSIVE, PURE MAGNIFICENCE!! Nothing's similar to this powerful, delicate and elaborate music, in the veins of which flows an important middle-age blood! I wonder why this excellent and unique band did'nt reached a more wider success! I'm breathless: GREAT, GREAT, GREAT, GREAT!!!!
Report this review (#41338)
Posted Tuesday, August 2, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars 3 1/3 stars

This is the first album in which the band tried a more commercial approach and it worked. The result is an accessible, yet complex album that tries to keep little experimentation, and play the normal Gentle Giant Way.

1. Just The Same : is the opener and is an avant-garde workout that is unusually easy to get into. There are piano/keyboard solos,and a saxophone joins in the piece. Very good. 7/10

2. On Reflection : This is the classic of Gentle Giant, but it is flawed in my opinion. The first minute is one of the best and most complex vocal harmony moments I have ever heard in progressive rock, but I dislike the 'all around all around all around' repetitive vocal part. the second half of the song is ballad-like and has gorgeous melodies. 7.5/10

3. Free Hand : Another classic of the band. This song shows how beautiful complex music can be, and this song is flawless. 8/10

4. Time To Kill : The weakest song of the album. It is a rocker that is a little incoherent and messy, but if you like ELP, you may like this. 4/10

5. His Last Voyage : an underrated mellow track with beautiful slow vocal harmonies. The guitar riff going in most of the song is delicate, and gives imagery of sailing on a boat. The bass riff in the beginning will grow on you, and the vocal driven middle section for me was likable at first listen. 8.5/10

6. Talybont : A short instrumental with keyboards, clavinet and woodwinds ... A nice track. 6/10

7. Mobile : a very dynamic closer that sounds more like music from Octopus. 5/10

Just like Three Friends, this is a good way to begin your journey with Gentle Giant. It is not very hard to get into, and contains some of their best songs.

My Grade : C+

Report this review (#42593)
Posted Friday, August 12, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Gentle Giant is a class act. Album after album, they deliver great songs and excellent compositions. Free Hand is no exception. It is even one of the finest they ever did. Following the biaised reception of The Power and the glory(most prog fans loved it, but critical reviwer tought of it as a letdown from the band), Free Hand was another step into a more medieval sound. The arrangements are increasingly complex, but always remains creative and melodic. The musicianship is really strong especially from Kerry Minnear, and the interplay remains true to the gentle giant tradition, one of the best prog ever produced. Every song is excellent, and the wonderfully crafted album remains fresh and despite the complexity of the music, is probably more accessible than its predecessor. Gentle Giant were really on, and this is must for any prog fan. 4.5/5
Report this review (#43484)
Posted Friday, August 19, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars The seventh work released in 1975 "Free Hand". Work that can be called compile of GENTLE GIANT sound. The sound is refined. The person who listens to this group might cause dizziness for the first time. The person who has listened from the first work will be impressed by music. The result of the experiment in the former work appears in this album. If I one recommend it, "On Reflection". Extraordinary masterpiece. I have a headache.
Report this review (#44670)
Posted Monday, August 29, 2005 | Review Permalink
Marc Baum
5 stars I see "Free Hand" as the zenith of Gentle Giant's fabulous classic period. It's perhaps their most realized effort. After the excellent, in wide parts experimental "In A Glass House" the group developed it's Renaissance-medieval approach on "The Power And The Glory", and produced one of the most creative and complex recordings in progressive rock history. On "Free Hand" they perfected that style, with using more transparent arrangements.

"Just The Same" is another superb opening to an classic Gentle Giant record, which is also the most accessible piece on. Their vocal approach to the four-part fugue "On Reflection" was revolutionary for it's time and is looked upon as one of the genre's defining moments (specially it inspired Spock's Beard's vocal-arrangements very strongly). Despite the complexity of the arrangements, the music never sounds academic and in fact is very accessible thanks to several melodic hooks. The combination of once more superb musicianship, dry wit, and creative compositions make this an essential and historical recording. The Renaissance-medieval approach of Gentle Giant reached it's highest point in the illustry "Talybont". The impressive "Mobile" finally crashes the album to an end, before the classic period of GG is finally over for many fans and progressive rock-addicts. Many of those seem to have forgotten the great "Interview" album they delivered one year after "Free Hand", even it wasn't quite on the same high level but not very far. What is left to say about this landmark progressive rock record?

9.5/10 points = 95 % on MPV scale = 5/5 stars

point-system: 0 - 3 points = 1 star / 3.5 - 5.5 points = 2 stars / 6 - 7 points = 3 stars / 7.5 - 8.5 points = 4 stars / 9 - 10 points = 5 stars

Essential: a masterpiece of progressive music

Report this review (#55417)
Posted Tuesday, November 8, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars In terms of my favourite GG album a tie between Freehand and Octopus. Both are brilliant of course, but freehand seems a little more relaxed - not quite to precise and hard edged, maybe a bit more jovial.

Either way, Freehand is an must purchase for anyone into prog. Although there isn't a weak track on the album, the highlights for me are the first 2 songs - Just the same is whimsical at times but still multi-layered and played with incredible talent. How do you even begin to think of a melody like that? On reflection, voted the greatest every GG song by the people of (the rather aptly name) On Reflection mailing list. It's easy to see why - whilst not my favourite GG song, it is mind blowing in it's lyrical scope. Figuring out for the first time that the instrumentation at the climax of the song mirrors the vocal harmonies at the start is one of my favourite musical moments.

I could go on about the album, but really it's sufficient to say that it's one of the most interesting recordings from one of progs greatest bands. Give it a chance, give it one more listen - it's complex and hard on the ears at first, but with Gentle Giant you get out of it what you put in.


Report this review (#74839)
Posted Thursday, April 13, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars "Free Hand" was my introduction to Gentle Giant before I was recommended to I lost my copy but I've listened to it quite a few times so I think I remember it enough to review it properly. I fell in love with these guys from this album, but I could never find any of their other works. Once I came to, I looked up what other albums I would like and found them at a store. Commercialism set aside, I've come to think very highly of these guys. They have a very complex sound to them unlike a lot of other symph. prog bands. If you do not know what to expect from these guys and are a little wary of just jumping in, I suggest to start off with this album or "Three Friends", then work your way up to "In a Glass House" and "Octopus".
Report this review (#75286)
Posted Monday, April 17, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars My introduction to the world of Gentle Giant, was at the end off a tape that my sister had recorded, on it was Aqualong by Jethto Tull and on the B side, In the court of the Crimson King by King Crimson. That was the part i was listening to, i had jus discoverd King Crimson at the time so for me it was a good album to start, but on the remaining of that side there was 2 song by a unknown band to me at the time, Gentle Giant. The songs were Just The Same and On reflection. The strange thing to me was that i like those to song better than the rest of that tape, so i definitly had to put my hand on the whole album because these to song where the best thing i had eard in a long time. So i brought the album second hand and my love to Gentle Giant never stop after that, it became my favorite band of all time. So, the album?, the song? Not the best effort by Gentle Giant but still, it can't be less that a five stars. Why?

Just The Same: What a opener!!!!! The cliking of the finger really make you strait into the song and the album. The groove on Just The Same is what got me to like the band in the first place. The vocal line is on the same pace as the groove under it making that song a must in the Gentle Giant catalog of songs. In all the progressive album that i got, there is no keyboards solo like the one on this song, very original!

On Reflection: With Just the Same you had the groovy sound of Gentle Giant, with On Reflection you have the vocal conterpoint and classical sound of Gentle Giant. What a song!!! the first time heard it, i could'nt belived my ear! Just the way it's mixed, one voice at the right, another at left, another in the middle... do you get confused? The middle part is very beautiful. Another must track in the Gentle Giant catalog.

Free Hand: INCREDIBLE!!!!!!!! The best song Gentle Giant have written, in my top 5 best song of all time! Just for the title track, you must get this album. Everything that i love in the music of Gentle Giant is on that song. The strange rhythm, the agressive guitar parts, the beatiful and classical mellow parts + a great vocal line that get you to sing it every time you ear it. A must!!!!

Time To Kill: It took me a wile to get into that song, especially because the rhythm on this song is unconventional. But, i force myself to a lot of earing so i could get it and it worked!! Very imaginative structure and very good ending with the «haaaa, haaaa, whooo, whooo» sing at the end.

His Last Voyage: A very beatiful mellow song like only Gentle Giant have the secret to. The vocals interplay is really what gets me in this song, it as a almost mytical feel to it + you get to have a very strong bluesy guitar solo by Gary Green near the end. Wow another highlight to me.

Talybont: It may be the weakest song in the album. Completely instrumental, it was intended at first for a robin hood movie that never got filmed so, they, Gentle, took the song back and include it on the album. The most medieval song in the Giant catalog. Good but a little bit repetitive.

Mobile: Another good track, cool vocal line, cool violin solo, good rhythm. John Weathers is a very underrated drummer. His talen shows particulary on this song. A very good ending to a another outsanding effort from Gentle Giant.

In the end, this is a must own for every progressive fan, it as to be in your music library. If it's not, go buy it, the remaster version just came out and the price for it is very cheap.

Report this review (#78181)
Posted Sunday, May 14, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Probably my favorite GG album because it's basically "perfect" music. With the possible exception of the last track, there's not a dull or mixed moment on the album. Compositionally it's complete. I't's perfromed with genius, but it's also extremely musical. Hardly anything on the album (except for the "pong" opening to "Time to Kill") sounds "dated." It still sounds original and fresh now!
Report this review (#81579)
Posted Tuesday, June 20, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars I'm not a big fan of Gentle Giant but i apriciate almost every work of this outstanding band. When i first listen this band i said to my self what is going on with them, to complicated, to many sounds, complex arangements. But after 15 times of hearing every '70 album, i begun to understand how they work, what is their porpose in music. There are still some superb moments on the album such as the delightful last Voyage and Time To Kill, as well as the title track, but on the whole I end up not so enthusiastic. Free hand is almost a masterpice, because every track is beyong average listner, complex and intresting arrangements. A 4 star album. I remain to Octopus witch i find the first masterpice ( second is The power...) of Gentle Giant and an album hard to beat even for them. This is my opinion regard to this one.

Report this review (#84942)
Posted Thursday, July 27, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars On Reflection - A Masterpiece

The main problem with other Gentle Giant studio albums is that they do not contain the perfect confection of hard rock and dazzling polyphony that is "On Reflection". This is possibly the best Prog Rock song ever, deceptively accessible to the point of seeming simplistic, and yet laden with technical subtleties and complex contrapuntal marvels that in no way stifle the natural flow of the piece.

But enough already! I'll do the analysis bit when I reach the song during my customary "live" review; As the album plays directly into my headphones, for your entertainment, before your very eyes, I will endeavour to pull out the succulent fruits and the sour grapes, the nightingales and the turkeys, the stellar and the stinkers from this marvellous musical trove of tonal treasures:

"Just the Same" must surely be considered a succulent fruit - bursting as it is with juicy proggy goodness. A finger clicking good rhythmic motif begins, then a piano motif joins it, crossing the rhythm of the clicking. It should be noted that the very first iteration of each motif is different to the motif itself, which provides instant drama and energy to what follows. The click disappears, and a distorted guitar provides a note-for note echo to the piano, exactly half a beat behind.

Note that this is all in the first 30 seconds - we're talking real proggy value for money here!

The song kicks in, and the instrumentalists and vocalists pick up melodically and rhythmically modified versions of the introductory motifs, lending a perfect continuity to the music. The chorus is another modification of these motifs, the time signature changing and layers of instruments changed to indicate the new territory, rather than the more predictable device of changing riff or key. This is followed by a rather surprising codetta - not a bridge, as it is clearly not intended as a linking device, rather a continuation of the previous flow of musical thought - and the second verse arrives.

The "bridge" is more of a development of the earlier ideas, but in a calmer, less chaotic zone, with swishy synths and soft-sixth squishy harmonies washing underneath twining guitar lines. The tempo picks up for the second section of the bridge, and is almost a recapitulation of the earlier ideas - except that Gentle Giant have surreptitiously modulated a few times during the past few sections, and use the new key to kick off into surprising and new material - except hang on, didn't I hear that finger clicking in the intro? The transition back to the verse is thus made smoother than it really has any right to be, and the song is drawn to a close with perfection.

The main drawback with this particular song is in the somewhat generic lyrics - akin to what one might expect to find in an "arty" pop song.

Now we get to "On Reflection", and on first hearing, you're almost bound to wonder why I rave so profusely about this song, as there is simply too much going on for you to absorb all at once - the music is a complete story in itself, and there is far more here than many bands produce in an entire album.

We kick off immediately with a striking melody line that is then turned into a canon - except that unlike a canon in a Classical work, when subsequent voices begin, they pick up at the same point in the lyrics as the primary voice.

As with many of Bach's fugal writings, the melody entries are a perfect 5th apart - but unlike Bach, 3rds and 6ths tend to be lightly touched upon - which lends an austere, almost mediaeval flavour to the whole piece, denying either major or minor key dominance.

The vocal lines continue, each part carefully composed to promote maximum movement within the music, until a sudden stop on a major triad that brings this section to a sudden stop in a perfect cadence.

The next section "reflects" the lyrics, as it is a reflection upon the person who is the subject of the song, which is perfectly symbolised by the complete change in character of the music: A sudden shift to a minor key and quasi-madrigal style harmonies using suspensions modulate downwards using our old friend, the cycle of fifths.

Again, for the next lyrical section, GG use a new character in the music for this reflection upon a reflection with an odd sequence of dischordant chords that suggest a kind of warped barbershop - or even the Beach Boys. This successfully imparts the questioning tone, and then yet another shift to a reflection on this question in the contrapuntal style of earlier: "Now: On reflection, why should I have changed my ways for you?".

This gives way to yet another musical fragment, which almost completes the exposition of main ideas for this song: the "All around" motif, which recurrs again and again in a quite brilliant stream-of-consciousness way, expressing the circular nature of thought patterns.

It should be noted at this point, that not even a minute of this song has passed - such is the density of carefully composed and outstandingly expressive material under scrutiny here. And it should also be noted that not all of the main music ideas have been exposed yet - despite the battery of rich inventiveness, GG keep a few tricks up their sleeves.

The next section feels familiar to us now, as it uses the same canon ideas as the very first, but this time we have instruments for the first time: A piano accompanies the 1st voice, a vibraphone accompanies the second, and a gockenspiel accompanies the third, lending a more urgent, percussive feel to what we might think of as the second verse.

The structure begins to feel a little more familiar now, as the second section or subject appears once more, closely followed by the third. Drums and cymbals join the instrumentation at this point, and an instrumental interlude follows - which is suddenly interrupted by the "All Around" motif.

This time, the motif is extended, and the guitars join the instrumentation - the bass at first - and the motif slowly fades and gives way to a completely new and ever more reflective idea - a lyrical, melancholy and reminiscent melody - the perfect 5th accompaniment maintaining the mediaeval flavour, and a wooden flute double underscoring this by accompanying the voice in unison. The arrangement is particularly notable as the instruments take fragments of the main melodic ideas and use them to expressively decorate and emphasise key lines and words in the lyrics.

This is a moment of real magic and tranquility, as the voices are shaped sensitively and the whole thing comes together as a perfect balance to the chaotic polyphony of earlier.

This is cut across by a sharp reminder (and a developed musical idea that feels new) "Look back, it's not your game, together just in name", but the reminiscent feeling is still strong, and the idea is recapitulated.

This time, a violin plays a slightly agitated counter-melody, and the "All around" motif performs the cut-off, before being cut off itself by a quite delicious riff fragment. The "All around" motif is having none of this, and attempts to re-assert itself once more, while percussive ideas sneak in fromthe sides attempting to establish some ground. Eventually the guitars (and organ) win, though, with a strong statement and development of the very first idea - this whole section clearly describing a battle inside the psyche. To put the icing on the cake, drums are added - and you just wonder how!

Sadly, the piece fades at this point, and we are left wondering what might have happened next - but that is the ONLY thing wrong with it!

Having just realised that I've managed to dedicate an album review's worth of space to a single song, I'll stop here. That should give an idea of just how great this album is in terms of compositional technique - an entire essay could be written on each piece, and there is simply no way you could assimilate all of the ideas presented within these grooves immediately - unless you're some kind of musical prodigy.

Maybe one day I'll write a review of a Gentle Giant album that gets the time and HTML- space it deserves - but for now, like the song "On Reflection", I'll leave the reader to wonder what happens next, to go straight to the nearest stockist, purchase a copy of this exceptionally fine Prog Rock album and begin the quest to discover how the heck they did that - or simply enjoy the deliciously complicated music underneath the deceptively accessible melodies.

Either way, an essential purchase for anyone that appreciates the finer points of Prog Rock - or progressive music generally.

Report this review (#85231)
Posted Monday, July 31, 2006 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Prog Team
4 stars This could be Gentle Giant at their most accessible, while holding on to the traits that make them so unique. It is a fun, and (of course) quirky album. This may not be the band at their most dramatic, but it is ultimately enjoyable.

"Just the Same" is strong, bouncy, and has that odd timing that GG fans have come to love. There are also some wonderfully silly keyboard sounds. So come on, and snap along (if you can).

"On Reflection" starts out with a trademark vocal round, and is joined by a few percussive instruments. It then goes into a folk section. Towards the end more is added, and we are treated to various sounds "all around, all around, all around."

"Free Hand" starts with a quickly played piano and guitar duet, backed with some subtle bass. It soon turns into a rocker, GG style.

"Time to Kill" is a jazzy groove. If you listen closely, there are some tasty progressions here.

"His Last Voyage" is delicately haunting, but has a little 'cut this thing loose' section.

"Talybont" is a medieval dance. If it weren't for the electronics, this could have been recorded in a castle of old. Ah, fetch me an oversized turkey drumstick.

"Mobile" is the only thing keeping this from getting five stars. It's a good tune, but not the best choice to close the album.

Once again, this is a fun album. It is also a great place to enter into the land of the Giant. I highly recommend it.

H.T. Riekels

Report this review (#88075)
Posted Wednesday, August 23, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars Free Hand was one of the first Giant songs I heard (after proclamation off Power and the Glory). I found it really catchy (which isn't something I often cherish in music) and very original. I could never really grasp the drumming - it seems Weathers opens the high-hats on every beat...and more. I bought the album, and I was really surprised. This was some of the first Giant I really heard (heard as in the sense of "listened to". Giant is a band that must be "listened to" as opposed to being "heard"). I really enjoyed it, with the perplexing musicianship and outstanding sound quality. This is some of the most complex, most baffling music ever published. The special thing about this band is that no one else could ever play any of their songs.

A great track is Talybont, with its thousand-and-one keyboard voices, and the folk-ish percussion. It's very intriguing and it carves a world of its own. His Last Voyage is also very beautiful, but On Reflection is my favourite song off this album. It's very poetic, and is some of their most sophisticated, layered and complicated music. Vocal harmonies have never been so complex as Giant's, and On Reflection is one of their proudest moments. Live performances of this song were outstanding, beginning with a classical opening.

This is a great album, and is one of the more accessible Giant albums (though Gentle Giant is not a band worthy of noting for their accessibility...)

Report this review (#89897)
Posted Sunday, September 17, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album is one of the best CD's in prog history, it reaches the same level as for example CLOSE TO THE EDGE by YES, SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND by Genesis, BRAIN SALAD SURGERY by Emerson, Lake And Palmer or IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING by King Crimson. The album contains outstanding musical artwork, it is perfect, it is the best album of GENTLE GIANT and the most rocky one as well. There do not exist any outstanding songs on this CD because it is outstanding in general.

FREE HAND is a mixture of complexity, perfectionism, emotionality and playfulness. The album is very diversified but it does not lose a continous mood. Some songs sound happy (like "Just The Same", "Time To Kill" and "Talybont"), some are sad (like "His Last Voyage" or the incredible "On Reflection" which is a masterpiece of chant for several voices) and some songs are unusual agressive for the style of GENTLE GIANT (like "Free Hand" which is very beautiful at the beginning and merges into an agressive piece with a psychedelic part in the middle of the title or "Mobile", which is the most agressive song the Giant's ever produced, in my opinion).

It may be a little less freaky than for example THE POWER AND THE GLORY (which is GENTLE GIANT's freakiest album I think), what results in that you needn't listen to it that often to get into this album. But that doesn't make FREE HAND better or worse than other GENTLE GIANT albums. It is the ease these guys play those complex songs and the complete perfection (what I want to say with that statement is that each song on this CD is just awesome), I think.

A masterpiece of progressive rock, five stars!

Report this review (#91879)
Posted Sunday, September 24, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars I don't understand how people would rate it lower than 4 just because it entered the charts. Look at "A Passion Play" by Jethro Tull: it is their less accessible album of the 70's, yet it charted at No.1 in the States (if memory serves well). The charts are very unpredictable, because the albums enter charts for selling and not because of the general opinion of the album; that is how the charts measure popularity: by number of copies. They just got a bit more popular, that's all. This album is as complex as the rest; except that now they actually filtered a bit more their ideas to create compact compositions, and instead of dull experimentation they focused on writing actual songs with every detail carefully planned and less atonalities. They kept the assimetrical time signatures but they don't just throw them for the sake of throwing them. In short: they polished their songwritting. I sometimes wonder how they all fit together perfetly into all those undecipherable time signatures (e.g. His Last Voyage) and how could they play all of these numbers on stage without a director's aid; they really are quite disciplined, and this album shows some of the most precise playing ever by Gentle Giant. John Weathers manages to get every strange beat with groove drum playing, and not a song on this album goes unnoticed. From the cheerful "Just The Same" to the fiddling on "Mobile", every number has it's charm... no fillers at all.

The most amazing song on here is "His Last Voyage": with amazing renaissance imagery and the most jazzy intersection in the mix, it represents the eclectic and extreme style this band displays. "On Reflection" starts with blends of fugal structure (a vocal fugue, later intrumental) and later proceeds into a more mediaeval approach, it's also amazingly memorable. "Talybont" is an almost pure mediaeval fair music, only mixed with canon in the arrangements. "Free Hand" is the perfect example on how to create a musical soundscape, with every instrument serving it's part separately to create complex polyphonic music, and then the song turns into a very funky piece, then bits of jazz on the bridge. "Time To Kill" has a more soul approach, in the way Gentle Giant only knows how. "Mobile" is known mostle for the fiddles, and the electric guitar also serves as a fiddle with the wah-wah effects.

a deserved 5-star rating... If you're starting out with GG I suggest this one LAST.... Yes, the best taste for last.

Report this review (#95454)
Posted Sunday, October 22, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars I've enjoyed most of the 1970s albums by Yes, Genesis and Jethro Tull for a long time, but last night I also listened closely to FREE HAND, probably for the first time ever, and it made me wonder if Gentle Giant were not, perhaps, more sophisticated than any of the aforementioned. The only early prog bands which truly matched GG in ensemble playing, were Frank Zappa's band circa 1974, and the early 1980s incarnation of King Crimson, with its intricate gamelan-style melodies. I simply gasped with astonishment when I heard the fugue GG pulled off in 'On Reflection'. This was so much more than the textbook fugue Keith Emerson inserted into 'The Endless Enigma'; it's an original piece of music that's vibrantly alive!

For Gentle Giant there were no experiments with pompous church organ-like sounds which some listeners may find questionable (as produced by Tony Banks on FOXTROT, or by Rick Wakeman on GOING FOR THE ONE). There is nothing solemn about this band; it really ROCKS, and lead singer Derek Shulman bears a lot of responsibility for that - he must be one of the most dynamic prog vocalists around. Shulman is also capable of moving the listener: the sweet melancholy of 'His Last Voyage' shows it makes no sense to call prog music 'sterile'.

So, hats off to Gentle Giant! On the 1998 remaster, FREE HAND is coupled with INTERVIEW, which was originally released just seven months later. Although a lesser album, INTERVIEW is still worth hearing, so the FREE HAND/INTERVIEW combi looks like a first- rate bargain.

Report this review (#98402)
Posted Sunday, November 12, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars Didn't they already did this before, Free Hand is a great album to listen too, but it appears to me that they are rehashing what they did on previous albums, it's Gentle Giant by numbers, but luckily they used the better aspects of their music to forge this album, no experimentation anymore and a more polished sound, which on occasion reminds me of Genesis (mostly in the keyboard passages). The frantic approach has remained, so expect the music to change at the drop af a hat, with delightfull keyboards, short bursts of guitars and great vocals.

Free Hand is probable the most accesible album Gentle Giant made, and maybe even their best effort as a whole, combining the best elements of previous albums, the novelty has gone but the music remains of high quality.

A very good album, and probable the best introduction to GG's musical world, work your way back to their earlier albums and understand how this band came to this almost masterpiece.

Report this review (#98524)
Posted Monday, November 13, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars Listening to just the first three tracks (the original side 1 on vinyl LP) is four stars worth. However, if you are familiar with GG live recordings from the late 70s, you should already know them. It starts with "Just the same", reminding the listener of the opener "Proclamation" of the predecessor album (actually the two songs were mixed to a medley on "Playing the fool"), but anyway one of the best Giant rock songs. "On Reflection" features one of the best vocal arrangements I've ever heard, repeated by various intruments later on. "Free hand" is a perfect combination of a driving rock tune and Giant-typical compexity. "Side 2" can't beat this perfect trio but is still enjoyable to listen to. While "Time to kill" and "His last voyage" are nothing special (for GG standards), "Talybont" is a folkloristic instrumental that's more "gentle" than the rest of the album but not very "giant" - it was originally written for a "Robin Hood" soundtrack that never got completed (as far as I know). The last song ("Mobile") has a lot of drive - lyrics and music fit perfectly together here; great GG songwriting again.
Report this review (#100744)
Posted Tuesday, November 28, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars More polished, but old hat.

Gentle Giant is perhaps the most unheralded "great" prog band of the 70's along with VDGG. A wealth of talented musicians and songwriters never seemed to stop the GG machine from chugging along. That being said, this record seems like DeJa Vu. The music is great, but it seems as if GG really never "progresses" as a band while being in a genre of prog. Sure it's much more polished than Acquiring the Taste, but I'lol conclude with tuxon, essentially it's all been done before, even if it is one of their better records.

Just the Same and Free Hand are my personal favorites here, both are fun rocking prog tracks. Both highlights are on a creative and quirky chorus and a solid middle instrumental section.

GG is probably at their most accessible of their quality releases here, something that wouldn't be too awkward to play at social events. On Reflection has some of the best vocal work since the absence of the other brother, and Mobile is a folksy tune thats packaged nicely and includes a dark riff that sounds awkward among the other music, but seems to fit ok.

Talybont is a Medieval sound that sort of crosses ELP's keys with Camel's "The Procession". Time to Kill is one of the darker sounding tunes here, with some dissonant notes building tension to the main riff. His Last Voyage should have been the closer here, as it was really the "Last Voyage" of a great GG album.

Overall it's a nice and interesting little record, but nothing is too moving about it. As a GG fan it's an important part of their collection, but me, I just was hoping for a bit more when I came to this one.

Report this review (#100872)
Posted Tuesday, November 28, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars Giants last excellent album, it is infused with the same greatness of the last two, and in the same vein. Medieval influences, folk, and always, the wde arrangement of instruments and talented players.

Strong points: His Last Voyage is a beautiful Kerry Minnear vocal peice, Just the Same, a funky sort of rocker, and Free Hand, a well written rock song.

The best of their career behind them, Giant began to follow a path that would inevitably lead to doom!

Report this review (#101442)
Posted Saturday, December 2, 2006 | Review Permalink
Chris H
2 stars Ok, when I saw all of the 5 star ratigns the first time I saw this page, I was thinking must be a good album! Then I bought it months later and here I am now, jaw dropped with astonishment that people consider this a masterpiece. "Just The Same" and "Free Hand" are the only tracks off this album I enjoy. "Just The Same" has some nice solo-ing in it from just about every badn member, and "Free Hand" is quite catchy with some fun lyrics and riffs. These songs save this album from one star doom.

On the othere side however, the rest of the album is pointless. "On Reflection" gets on my nerves. The chanting is really annoying and those chimes give me headaches, plus the echo vocals are very dated. "Time To Kill" is an aptly titled song. They had time to kill on the record, so they recorded this track. When I listen to it, I think more along the lines of "time to kill myself!". "His Last Voyage" is a waaayy too long Yes-wannabe song that just drags on and on and on! Ughh, "Talybont" is next? I can't believe I wasted my time listening to this rubbish! It's a waste of disk space honestly. Finally, "Mobile" ends the album. Not too shabby but it does get very repetitive and annoying.

2 stars, but only for "Free Hand" and "Just The Same"!

Report this review (#106480)
Posted Sunday, January 7, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars An All-Time Classic!

Having only recently gotten in to this band, I'm surprised that it took me so long to get to this album. After doing so, I am eternally grateful. This, in my opinion, was a masterpiece at first listen and has only grown on me more. This is truly a masterpiece of progressive music. Everything about it just works. The vocals are the best they've ever been, providing the listener with soaring melodies that truly capitvate.Every instrument is pitch- perfect and truly an uplifting joy to listen to.

Every song is either excellent or a classic. "Just the Same" is an awesome song that really elevates the mood. "On Reflection" has some of the best vocal harmonies this side of broadway. Add that to a memorable keyboard line that just grooves throughout and you have a classic. The title track is one of my personal favorite songs of all time. Everything combines on that track and formulates a piece that just has everything in it. The bass stands out very well. The melody is absolutely superb as usual. It is a truly unforgettable rocker that personifies everything done right in progressive rock, it is that good. "Time to Kill" is another great song with the harmony that puts this album ahead of others and gives it that "edge." "His Last Voyage" is the best example of what this band can do. After an intro with high piano and bass, it leads in to a truly atmospheric piece with soaring vocals with a lovely and pleasant guitar accompanyment. Without question, this is melody done right. "Talybont" is an agreeable instrumental medieval in nature, too independant and creative to be considered filler. The album closes with "Mobile" which is a more straight- forward track yet still possesses the quirky charm that runs throughout the album. Again, the melody gives it the quality that makes it a classic.

There is a surprising lack of filler on this album. The songs don't flow together but what the listener is presented with is a collection so wonderfully varied that what could have been awkward is just distinguishing between songs. Gentle Giant is one of the bands where no instrument steals the spotlight, on this album at least. Guitars, keys, bass, vocals, drums, they all mash in to something incredible and something that really embodies harmony between both voices and instruments.

Basically, any fan of progressive rock would appreciate at least some aspect of this great record. Personally, I feel this album transcends a good amount of music either past or present and leaves its mark as being an unforgettable masterpiece.

Report this review (#108613)
Posted Tuesday, January 23, 2007 | Review Permalink
el böthy
4 stars What Gentle Giant created with Free Hand is their most accessible album (from their classic period, let's not bring Giant for a Day and Civilian into discussion.) without loosing their instrumental and vocal complexity nor their polyrhythmic compositions; what an achievement indeed! And to top it all, this might even be among their three best albums; again, what an achievement!

The album starts with finger snaps. no, really it does, with Minear´s keys dropping in a few seconds later to mark the counterpoints of the "finger snap beat" in a more than typical Giant fashion, a great way to open the album. Of course I'm talking about "Just the same". Minear shines here, not only for his counterpoints rhythms, on which Green´s guitar would also help latter on, but for his strange sounds in the chorus and that spacey solo. Among his best stuff, and in another great Giant fashion, it's complex, inventive but never in your face; what an achievement! "On reflection" follows and it brings us another characteristic Giant composition, maybe the one they are more famous for: the polyphonic, medieval multi vocals. Sure, this has been done before with the "head turning" "Knots" in Octopus, so the result might not be as surprising, but let me tell you, it´s equally as good as the previous mentioned one. Some might even say it's better, I know my friend and Giant fan-boy, Martinn, would agree. "Free hand" is in my eyes and ears the best track of the album. Again, Minear owns this one, but Ray Shulman is not far behind with his fantastic bass lines. The main key riff that could be taken as the chorus must be one of the best things the Giants have done in their career. Of course the rest of the band also delivers pure brilliance in every note, every beat. Strange as this might sound, one could even dance to this song; what an achievement! The second side of the album, for I have the vinyl version, kicks of with "Time to kill" which, at least for me, is the weakest track from the album. BUT, this does not mean it's a bad tune, no, no, no, no, no. it's still very, very good, specially Shulman´s bass lines, but the rest of the album is just way better. "His last voyage", the longest song from the album. which is still quite short if you compare it to other prog songs, is really interesting. Here the Giants take it down a notch; the song presents little drumming, just in some sections here and there, but other than that, it's a very calm song. Still, the instrumentation here (as usual) goes wild. It is rare for the Giants ´cause an instrument that is not usually used by them in other songs, prevails here as their main in the vocal parts. the acoustic guitar! Again the vocals are sung in their polyrhythmic fashion, but not as over the top as in "On reflection". Gentle Giant was one of ´70 strongest instrumental bands, yet they didn't do many instrumental songs, which is quite weird. But, here, in Free Hand, we get one. "Talybont", a short piece, constructed around a main key riff is as delightful as short songs come. Of course every instrument plays their own interpretation of this riff, full of variations, one almost wishes the song was longer, but no, it's short. and delightful. "Mobile" closes the album; an up beat song, again, full of what makes Gentle Giant Gentle Giant. Personally, I find this song to have Derek Shulman´s best vocal lines, at least from this album. Strong, direct, even happy, it's a good contrast to the complex background instrumentation this song presents. Now, this is not about the actual song itself, but about the album. I have, as I already said, the vinyl version and the CD version. Now, in the vinyl version once this song comes to an end the record plays on for a few more seconds, I would say 20 or so, till Weathers hits the drums on last time all alone. I always found this very cool, for it always took me by surprise. Now, this ultimate drum hit, does not appear in the CD version. or at least not in mine. strange indeed.

To summon things up: a classic, one of their best. Few if any weak point and some of their very strongest are here. A good starter too, very accessible, yet you can get something new out of it, every time you listen to it, what an achievement!

Report this review (#117494)
Posted Friday, April 6, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars There is something about this album which seems to me to be the perfect mix of catchy classic Giant rock and roll...and beautiful Medieval/Madrigal/Baroque music. This album is one of the best things the boys every produced...One heck of a ride. ------ "Just the Same" is the sort of track that seems to have unnecessary odd timing, however, as one learns the rhythms and becomes accustomed to the song, it becomes an all out romp. ------ "On Reflection" What can I say. Incredible fugal harmony here, one of the most amazing sounds I have heard segueing into a very good middle and end section with well put together instrumentation. ------- "Free Hand" just really sounds good and really sounds catchy. They put together a rock and roll song with plenty of progressive elements to keep it interesting after many many listens. This one flat out rocks. "Time To Kill" has one of the most, shall I say it, "Killer" riffs I've heard in a Gentle Giant song. It really gets kicking after 2 or 3 listens. ------- "His Last Voyage" is BEAUTIFUL! The instruments intertwine perfectly and Kerry Minnear sings so soft and so hymn-like...You can just see an astoundingly beautiful picture in your mind as you listen to it...ahh... -------"Talybont" is a fun little Baroque number but is only enjoyable if you are in the right mood...which, if you are, makes it a really nice song. ------ "Mobile" has violin at the start which really brings to mind the song "In a Glass House" but isn't quite up to par with the rest of the album. It seems like Gentle Giant is sort of rehashing previous ideas but without the beauty of the former tracks...However, don't get me wrong. It is a good track and sure to please.

The bonus track is really good on the cd but that has nothing to do with the album so...

New to GG? Start here, I would recommend it! If you already are a fan and don't have really need to get your head checked, you will enjoy it!

Report this review (#123657)
Posted Monday, May 28, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars It was one of the first album if Gentle Giant that i bought. I always considered it to be one of their best until i discovered The power and the Glory and In a glass house. Of all the albums that they released, this one was more commercial however they were always original while other prog. rock band were losing some steam. The three best tracks on the album are "Free hand", "Just the same" and "On reflection", which sounds a lot like "Knots" on Octopus. The album is great to anyone new to this kind of music.
Report this review (#125905)
Posted Friday, June 15, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars What can you say?

If the jazzy funk element of Power and the Glory hadn't quite melded into the medieval choral, complex musicality that is GG, then boy does it fit in here.

The first time I listened to this album it just made me smile. This is most defintiely inane grin territory (In InGT as a couple of my mates would put it).

Often the difficulty with reviewing an album which is so complex is the the desire, or compulsion, to try and be profound and appear knowledegeable. The greatest compliment I can pay this album is that I've played it when a few mates & girlfriends have comeback form teh pub (well worse for wear) and they've loved it. I've played it to mates in bands I've played in: they have loved it & seethed with jealously. Finally, I can't play this album without smiling.

I've always wondered what Buddy Rich would have sounded like if he'd jammed with these guys. My only disappointment in this album, and i've got to say it's a biggy is the restrained drumming: where are the swishing cymbals in His Last Voyage?? Bugs me every time I hear it.

Talybont reminds me of the backing music for the dance scene in Romeo & Juliet at a production I saw years ago (23).

Mobile follows suit. Typically GG. A little bit of a reel. Love the bass chords jsut before it enters a very weird section. welcome the the weird and wonderful world of GG. Love it or hate it, you must feel the quality.

For me it's a 4.5 but I can't vouch it as essential so that leaves this a 4.

Report this review (#126861)
Posted Tuesday, June 26, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Gentle Giant were so good it hurts. What Ray and Derek Shulman, Kerry Minnear, John Weathers and Gary Green were able to achieve musically was unmatched in the progressive rock movement. The group didn't demand attention, squeeze catchy melodies or foment heart-tugging manipulations. They just recorded some of the most accomplished music in rock history.

'Just the Same' opens on a cheerful note but gives a taste of the sophisticated architecture to come. That promise is fulfilled with the knock-out vocal arrangements in 'On Reflection', building and circulating with piano, Vibes, more vocal layers, a gingerly-sung lyric, sprinkles of recorder and violin, all leading to an immaculate rock explosion of beauty, energy and immense joy. The cocky 'Free Hand' quickly becomes a prog rock classic that matches anything Yes ever did and reveals a unit that could literally do anything, and did it with such aplomb that many contemporaries must have cried themselves to sleep after hearing this record. Gentle Giant were unafraid, and could back-up their high ambition with results. 'Time to Kill' continues in the vein of the title track with constant change, modulation, redirection and trippy high-end playfulness. The band is able to take just a few small themes deconstructed to such a degree that they become unrecognizable as related music, maintaining a connection just under the surface that strings everything together. The deep and jazzy 'His Last Voyage' gets into religious tonalities and Gregorian chants, gluing it all with some old fashioned rock 'n roll, 'Talybont' is quite pleased to see the King, giving Tull a serious run for the money and 'Mobile' is an amazing reprise with some hot fiddle.

One of those albums that, looking back, captured a moment, a quality, a time that was never seen again in modern music. Eras change and generations grow-up but Gentle Giant is somehow timeless in its uncompromising quality and standards, and rock will not soon see another band bearing such undeniable gifts.

Report this review (#142869)
Posted Tuesday, October 9, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Free Hand is a document of the funkiest castle in history. I don't know if Gentle Giant invaded the funkiest castle, if Gentle Giant invaded a castle and brought the funk to the castle, or if Gentle Giant grew up in the funkiest castle and finally harnessed their medieval roots in their music, but it's all beyond the point. This is the music of the funkiest castle ever.

I wish I had the motivation to review this whole album and relate it to the funky castle story.

The album's got a few of GG's best tunes, most notably "On Reflection," and it's loaded with musical ingenuity, but it's fun. Almost too fun. My friends and I laugh constantly when listening to this together, but it's mostly in a good way. In any case, fans of the group will find plenty to enjoy. This is Gentle Giant's last great album, and I couldn't think of a better, funkier swan song than "Mobile."

Report this review (#150822)
Posted Wednesday, November 14, 2007 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars In my top four of favourite GENTLE GIANT records. This is very accessible music and at the same time intricate and complex. The band interplay is jaw-dropping at times, and the collage of sounds that seems to be perfectly timed and placed proves this point.

"Just The Same" opens with what sounds like someone snapping their fingers. Such a catchy tune with the guitar and keys intertwining. After 2 minutes we get a calming interlude with synths until the main melody returns after 4 minutes. "On Reflection" features some of those incredible vocal arrangements that they are famous for. I was also reminded of YES a couple of times with the harmonies that follow. The song changes 2 minutes in as Minnear sings with his reserved vocals. I love this part of the song. Some great instrumental work to end the song including the drumming 5 minutes in. "Free Hand" reminds me of "Just The Same" with the fantastic band interplay,as well as how catchy it is. The piano is impressive, as are the strange keyboard sounds.

"Time To Kill" is another accessible, melodic song.This really is a feel good song with harmonies to boot. Some good guitar after 3 minutes. "His Last Voyage" is one of my all time favourite GENTLE GIANT songs. There is something about Minnear's vocals that draw me in, and I don't want to leave. Again the intricate collage of sounds is a highlight. Check out the guitar 4 minutes in as the drums and piano play on. Lots of xylophone on this track as well.The original melody comes back to end it. "Talybont" is apparently the name of a forest in Wales. The song has a Celtic flavour to it. Recorder, keys and guitar lead the way. These last two songs bring down my opinion of this album a notch, not a fan of either really. "Mobile" is all about the violin melodies. Vocals sound processed 2 1/2 minutes in.

A solid 4 star record to be sure, and in the upper half of their first eight studio albums.

Report this review (#150929)
Posted Thursday, November 15, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Every top prog band has their ULTIMATE masterpiece. Their magnum opus, if you will.

Yes has Close to the Edge, King Crimson has In the Court of the Crimson King, Genesis has Selling England by the Pound and....... Gentle Giant has Free Hand.

This is GG's last great album and it is their VERY BEST. Some bands give us their best toward the beginning of their careers. GG waited until their seventh release to give the world a CERTIFIABLE MASTERPIECE. I won't stop there, and say that Free Hand should be among the top ten prog records of all-time. It's THAT GREAT!

What's always stood out above everything else in all of GG's catalog is the keyboard work and the vocals. Kerry Minnear is an incredibly talented keyboardist who should go down in history as one of THE MOST prominent and influential musicians in the world of prog rock(and perhaps one of the most underrated). Possessing impeccable timing and being a master of contrapuntal harmonies the vocal talents and inventiveness of Derek Shulman are without peer.

That being said, on no other GG album are these two men so tight and so perfect. Their creative and collaborative genius flows from one piece to the next with seamless precision setting a standard that has yet to be matched since this quintessential release made its way to our ears back in 1975.

The album possesses a very positive and upbeat quality that never gets close to being silly or too jolly to be dismissed as less than serious music. GG managed to create an energetic and rocking jazz-like album that is BY NO MEANS a pop record, nor is it so inaccessible or dark that it will only attract the very pensive and reclusive listeners. This record hits the spot in a very positive emotional sense. It'll make you feel GOOD!

The ONLY knock against this album is that it leaves the listener wanting MORE. It's very short by today's standards. But it's not the length of the album alone that leaves me wanting more, but the OUTSTANDING QUALITY of the compositions. I want the music to never stop!

Free Hand is a MASTERPIECE OF THE HIGHEST ORDER and a MUST HAVE for any serious progger. Among the VERY BEST of THE BEST!

Report this review (#157332)
Posted Monday, December 31, 2007 | Review Permalink
The Pessimist
5 stars Certainly the very best GG album in my books, this CD truly contains a mastery of all the Giant's traits: quasi-round vocals, complexity, rhythmical virtuosity, uniqueness, driving rhythm on several occasions... i could go on, but this is must buy.

1. Just The Same - Great opener. Quite tame compared to the rest of the album, but nonetheless stunning - 5/5

2. On Reflection - Fantastic vocals at the start but slowly deteriarates and really goes nowhere in particular - 3/5

3. Free Hand - A second GG masterpiece song. Great driving rhythm and some really quite complex stuff! Minear really shines quite a bit on this song, as also in the opening track - 5/5

4. Time To Kill - As good as (if not better than) the previous track, this one's probably the most technically challenging of all - 5/5

5. His Last Voyage - A lovely ballad that reminds me distinctly of the Mahavishnu Orchestra - 4/5

6. Talybont - Fantastic prog song with a medeival feel, short and sweet with a gorgeous flute - 5/5

7. Mobile - Returning to the celtic feel, this is a stunning ending with everything a prog-rocker looks for - 5/5

Overall score - 5/5

Report this review (#159637)
Posted Thursday, January 24, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Okay, Okay, this is definitely a masterpiece of Gentle Giant's. I had a hard time deciding this for a while, but after listening to it for months, it has grown on me to the point of absolute listening pleasure with every song, and after analyzing the album itself, it is certainly another one of the genius creations of the genius band Gentle Giant, second only to In a Glass House of the band's albums I have listened to for so far (I still have yet to get Octopus). Indeed, there isn't an album by Gentle Giant I have heard yet that I wouldn't consider excellent, and this one is by far more than excellent, it's a desert island album for me. I actually received the 35th Anniversary edition album for Christmas a few months ago after asking for it from my sister, and I already knew the album quite well after my progger friend Justin let me borrow it on vinyl. It took quite a while for it to catch on to me, but I soon discovered that it accomplishes so much in its musicality, and it absolutely baffles me as a musician that other musicians can be so infinitely talented, and I am quite humbled as a multi-instrumentalist myself. Enough of my fanboyishness, on with the music.

Just the Same serves as a great opener, starting off the album just the sort of way you'd expected the band to - the snapping of fingers. The vocal lines and other melody lines are all catchy, keyboard is wonderful, especially in the middle when it serves as an atmospheric element. A classic Gentle Giant song, fun, energetic, jazzy, almost something you could dance to. The ending is great too!

On Reflection is among one of my favorite songs ever, and along with In a Glass House, my favorite Gentle Giant song. Almost the entire song is in rounds, meaning one part would start with a first melody, then that part would move to a second melody while a new part comes in with the first melody, then a third melody with the first part, the second with the second part, and the first with a new third part, and so on. Thus you end up with several melodies, at least four or five, going at once, and it sounds quite wonderfully complex. This idea is started off in the song with all vocals, and then all come together after the series of rounds singing all around! All a round! All a round! All a round! The song is all a round all around!!! Genius! pretty soon the round is done with the instruments themselves. I just love this song.

Free Hand, the album title track, is a bit more straight forward than the previous, really rocking out, in a very eclectic sense, as usual with the band. It is probably the catchiest song on the album, again almost something you could dance to. Another classic Gentle Giant song, energetic, and a bit heavier than most of their previous songs. I find it interesting how the piano starts of the song with a quite minor sounding pattern but the song overall sounds so happy and playful. It definitely gets more that way in the middle of the song, than builds back up to the rocking chorus. the drums do an awesome fill and BAM! Back into the chorus! It's just great!

Killing the Time is a bit weirder sounding than the previous few, but again has that great classic Gentle Giant sound, with the use of different sorts of instruments at different times doing different sort of rhythms and melodies and harmonies. I love how in this song they can go from using two instruments to using all of them in the same two measures and make it flow so nicely, more than many bands, even progressive, do with an entire song.

His Last Voyage is a bit of a break from the intensity of the rest of the album, being much softer, almost sort of solemn yet not... I'm quite how to describe the mood, but it perfectly musically portrays the lyrics, of an apparently old man's last voyage to the sees. The band accomplishes a unique atmosphere in the song, quite nice and calm. I especially love the effects of the reverberation with the vocal tracks and guitar, and the steadiness in the middle section of the song.

Talybont is another on of those wonderful little two minute tid-bits that you love on great album, like Madrigal on A Farewell to Kings or Reunion on In a Glass House. In this case it is an instrumental with wonderful folk sounding wind instruments and harpsichord, and sharp guitar with an echo on almost every note. Once again, a ground breaking song that accomplishes so much musicality in such a small amount of time.

Mobile, the closing song of the album, is one of those common on masterpieces where they don't do much for the album, but nor do they take anything away from the album, and is a great song in its own right. Quite catchy melodies and to me a bit reminiscent of In a Glass House (the song).

All in all, a ground breaking album, one of Gentle Giant's best received albums, as well as being one of their heaviest and most musically active, almost in a bit of an in your face way. I only wish I could have grown up in this period instead of in my musically desolate generation. An absolute masterpiece by one of the most talented groups of musical geniuses that ever existed!

Report this review (#163612)
Posted Monday, March 10, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Free hand is the seventh album from Gentle Giant and one of their best albums IMO. After The Power and the Glory which was the predecessor to Free Hand, Gentle Giant must have felt extremely inspired for Free Hand to come out as well as it did. I think The Power and the Glory is the weakest of the first six albums from Gentle Giant ( it´s not weak at all compared to other prog rock albums of course, only compared to the other five albums. I personally gave The Power and the Glory 4 stars) and I was afraid that their really good era was over. Free Hand fortunately proves me wrong. While still maintaining all of the charateristics of Gentle Giant which means a mix of hard rock, jazz/ fusion, classical chamber music, medieval music, avant garde and folk, Free Hand takes Gentle Giant one step further. Never on any of the previous albums have the music been this memorable yet still very complex. It´s a great achievement that only Gentle Giant could have done.

The music is as always pretty hard to describe as you can probably sense when reading my above description. Songs like Just The Same, Free Hand, Time To Kill and Mobile are all extremely well written progressive rock songs while On Reflection might be the finest polyrythmic vocal song Gentle Giant ever made. On Reflection is the song with most avant garde influences on the album, but it´s very memorable. His Last Voyage is a beautiful semi-ballad while the instrumental Talybont completes this beautiful and very powerful prog rock album.

The musicianship is outstanding. Every single musician plays beyond his abillities on Free Hand. Not only do Gentle Giant make beautiful and powerful music they are also mulitinstrumentalists and outstanding musicians every one of them.

The production is very good. absolutely the best sound quality Gentle Giant had achieved by then.

Free Hand is one of my favorite Gentle Giant albums, and also one of my favorite prog rock albums. It deserves all 5 stars for the musical genious put into the compositions and the interplay between the musicians. You will very seldom come across anything remotely like this. If you haven´t listened to this album yet, you better run out and buy yourself a copy, because this is pure genious.

NOTE: I have an edition with both Free Hand and Gentle Giants next album Interview on one CD which is of course a great treat. Two albums for the price of one. I would seek out this version if I were you.

Report this review (#173349)
Posted Monday, June 9, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Next to Octopus, this is Gentle Giant's best album, possibly a contender for that position as strongest release by the band.

Coming off the tails of the average The Power and the Glory, Free Hand simplifies the tracks just enough to turn them into cohesive songs. The same complicated structures and wild instrumental parts that the band demonstrated in other albums shows up here. The only difference is the energy of the band is absolutely very present in almost every track, giving the album a much more exciting and commercial sort of feel, even though the music is very much progressive. The experimental nature of the band has winded down by this point, but that does not mean that this album, though it does not venture into much territory that the band had not yet explored, is by any means a simple rehash of other Gentle Giant songs and ideas. What we have here is the culmination of the band's history, the peak of the band.

The fun and lighthearted track Just the Same opens the album, playing with some fun keyboards and a quality chorus. It may be one of the lesser songs on Free Hand, so if this does not inspire you much, continue on anyways. The next track, the wildly complicated On Reflection, features what is probably the band's most intense series of vocal harmonies and rounds. The middle section of the song slows down considerably and produces a very neat mellow melody. It ends with a full band reprisal of the beginning vocal interplay. The title track appears next, a rather upbeat and catchy song. The musicality of the interludes is astonishing here, with perfectly aligned yet irregular instruments playing to each other's strengths. Very much a recommended listen for a song, because I believe it to be the best and most representative song created by the band.

The other side begins with Time to Kill, a peppy sort of tune with fun keyboards and catchy melodies. Do not be alarmed, however. If the energy levels are starting to get to you and you are having trouble sitting still, the next song should calm you down. His Last Voyage is the album's soft ballad sort of tune, tying in lovely piano work and a lovely melody. The energy returns right after, however, with the Renaissance-esque instrumental piece Talybont. The music than reignites into the final track, Mobile, with more complicated songwriting and deeply inspired vocal bits. It wraps up the album with a tightly woven instrumental bit in the vein of Octopus's River.

In the end, this is one of Gentle Giant's strongest albums. It's a wonderful place to start for any listener, even if it may be a touch weaker than Octopus. This is a highly recommended release, one that shows just where the creativity was going when it started to get wonky in a number of other popular prog bands.

Report this review (#184998)
Posted Wednesday, October 8, 2008 | Review Permalink
Queen By-Tor
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Octo-what?

There's an eternal debate as to the best Gentle Giant album, although most will say it comes down to Free Hand, In A Glass House or Octopus, and most times Octopus comes out on top. But to be quite honest, while that album may have been a pinnacle of experimental music with an incredibly warm and welcoming sound, this album has it beat by miles and miles when you're looking for amazing compositions and musicianship. The album maintains the typical Giant quirk, but adds a couple of layers of melody and direction that some people who criticize the band claim that they lack, yet they still have the complexities that people often give them so much credit for. Really, this is the perfect blend for Gentle Giant and it's the album that will likely appeal to the widest audience.

Each song on this album is a work of absolute marvel. Though each of the sides has its own standouts and features the songs all contain a certain amount of charm and crazy complexity to make them both incredibly catchy, memorable, and impressive. Probably the best example of this is the killer duo of songs that make up the most of the first side. On Reflection carries on the Knots style of harmonized vocals while taking the length and extending it, adding more instrumentation and melody. The secondary vocals are also quite beautiful in their delivery as the music slows down - that is, until the buildup that brings the song to a somewhat cataclysmic close. Free Hand, the title cut, is also incredibly impressive. Its melodies and hooks are such that this one will get lodged in your head, never to be removed. Not a lot of Gentle Giant songs can be called ''catchy'', but this one certainly can. Add in a certain amount of aggression and you've got yourself one killer tune.

Some of the other songs on the album are more familiar to the Gentle Giant style. The opening Just The Same is an upbeat tune with some very uplifting vocals while the instrumental Talybont revisits the Giant's love for medieval melodies in its brief existence. Time To Kill has a structure in kin with something like Pantagruel's Nativity with its subtle nuances being the most prominent (strangely) part of the song, making for a strange hook. His Last Voyage is a slow and reflective, calm piece that simmers things down for a moment while Mobile makes for a blistering closer.

There really isn't a whole lot more to say about Gentle Giant's masterpiece other than it should be in every single prog rock collection in at least one form. If you don't take my word for it then read one of the many other gushing reviews and you just may be convinced. A bright and shiny 5 stars for this marvelous work.

Report this review (#186199)
Posted Friday, October 17, 2008 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
5 stars One fo Gentl Giant's bst album (if not the best) and a personal favorite of mine. Sadly, it was also the last truly great efford by the band. Their next LP, Interview, would indicate the slow decline of this amazing group. But you can't tell this by Free Hand. Those guys were in top form, both as songwriters and as players. The richness of their music reachs absurd levels on this one. Yet they could concentrade their awesome defying musicanship and very elaborated arrangements in catchy, beautiful, 5 minute songs. Who elsse could have done this?

Although there are no fillers on this album, if one asked me the very highlight on Free hand I'd not hesitate to point On Reflection: the multi-layered, conterpointing voices on this tune is enough to turn the most relutant non beliver into a fan. It's a natural developement of the already incredible Knots (included on their other masterpiece Octopus). The instrumental section on this one is also of note. It's the kind of song I can hear over and over again and never have enough of it.

By the time they recorded Free hand the band had nothing to prove. So while most of their peers were doing bloated, over-pretentious, over-the-top, grand suites (and most of them losing themselves into that), GG kept their heads together and worked for the music. No long noodling, no ten minute solos. Yet, so few musicians could have even dreamed of doing such subtle, delicate and difficult performances. Each song encapsulates is a true mini opus.

Free Hand is the band's peak. While very demanding and challeging as all their earlier effords, it is also one fo the most pleasant and accessible. A joy to hear and a timeless piece of music that defies categorization even 30 years after its release. Essential for any prog lover. A truly masterpiece.

Report this review (#186891)
Posted Saturday, October 25, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars One of the oldest albums in my collection and for me the most progressive and complete album ever.

Jazzrock, baroque, mediëval, rock, blues, pop and folk are blended perfectly. Everything and every song on this album is a sure hit.

Even after 25 years of playing this album, it has secrets for me. Together with Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant was a band impossible to describe; they simply can play every instrument and every style of music.

It seems that all reviewers have the same consensus on this album. There simply is no negative review about this album.

My favorite songs on this album are all seven of them.

Report this review (#189211)
Posted Friday, November 14, 2008 | Review Permalink
Eclectic Prog Team
4 stars While not quite as enjoyable to me as some other Gentle Giant releases, this album carries a lot of progressive weight, and is one I can always rely on when I am in the mood for something wildly eccentric. Every track is memorable, even if they require a bit of time and focus to appreciate.

"Just the Same" The snapping of fingers kicks off the album. Piano and electric guitar bounce off one another until Shulman belts his first line. The melody and lyrics are extremely catchy. Initially, the instrumental section is very spacey, with some atmospheric keyboards and uncomplicated guitar work, but then jumps into one of the quirkiest sections Gentle Giant has ever recorded.

"On Reflection" A relative of "Knots," featuring complex a capella vocal arrangements with several countermelodies. The instrumentation initially focuses on percussion, but brings in piano and strings also. The chaos fades out as Minnear comes into the spotlight to sing one of the loveliest moments of the album. The more beautiful vocal section is interrupted briefly by a more forceful vocal styling. The final part of the song is Gary Green, Kerry Minnear, Ray Shulman, and the gang using their respective instruments to interpret the multipart vocal section the piece began with.

"Free Hand" A quaintly eerie piano serves as the basis for the guitar and bass to work over before a boisterous Shulman jumps in with those lines every Gentle Giant fan knows. It features a somewhat jazzy psychedelic instrumental middle section, during which the bass plays the central role.

"Time to Kill" Awkward percussion and loud guitars make this one of the most avant-garde things Gentle Giant ever performed, at least until Shulman sings, and even then, the guitar work brings it back to that genre. One of the main riffs in the song sounds like it inspired one particular small section in Kansas's song, "Paradox." Minnear sings at his deepest with the bass.

"His Last Voyage" A lone bass introduces this pleasant pieces of music. Minnear's voice is distant and almost sacrosanct-sounding, as though he were a lonely monk intoning in an large cathedral. While retaining Minnear's faraway vocals, the piece abruptly shifts into something closer to avant-garde jazz with loud piano and Green's guitar run through a wah pedal. The whole band uses the introduction as a springboard back into the quieter lyrical section.

"Talybont" Full of medieval instrumentation, this terse instrumental is a favorite of mine. The percussion is apt, as are the other instruments.

"Mobile" Floating somewhere between Celtic and Cajun, much of this song consists of fiddling and acoustic guitar, except of course where Shulman is belting the words. It's a jaunty track, and highly pleasing.

Report this review (#202617)
Posted Friday, February 13, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars For many people, myself included, it takes a number of listens to really 'get' a gentle giant because there a lot of musical complexity, but I would say that it is more hidden and you will not appreciate many of the best parts on your first listen. With that said, I have listened to Free Hand many times and I am yet to 'get' it. This album is actually pretty accessible for a non-prog fan, but whatever is making it such a great progressive album I must be missing. Parts of the album I like, occasionally I start to get annoyed by stuff like the clicking or parts of the vocals, but mostly there is nothing I can't stand about this album, just nothing I really like. I find In A Glass House to be a much better, more progressive album and I would recommend it as the best gentle giant album, with free hand not near the top. I suppose the band did a good job of making a more accessible album for people who aren't fans of prog, while still making a complex album, but many of the complexities are lost on me or unappealing. It feels like hard work trying to squeeze enjoyment out of this album, and I am ok with music taking a few listens to understand, but I don't want to have to work to enjoy it. I can hear the parts of this album that are progressive and that must be what make this album so appealing to some people, but I really have to work and search for them and once I find them, I don't enjoy the music any more for it. Perhaps one day the light will suddenly dawn on me and I will have to go back and change review, but for now I have given this album enough of a chance and I have to say that it is good, but certainly not essential.
Report this review (#207623)
Posted Tuesday, March 17, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Free Hand is on the verge of being consecutive highest quality album by Gentle Giant. For me it's big wondering between 4.4 and 4.5, because according to my rules, if I give 4.5 I shall have to rounded it to 5 stars, when the average rating of the album is below 4.5. And yet, I think it won't happened. This album is the fourth best by the band (after Three Friends, In a Glass House and The Power and the Glory and little above Acquiring the Taste) for me!

Here we have big medieval impact with the second and sixth songs - On Reflection and Talybont; and medieval/relax/new age impact with fifth song - His Last Voyage. All songs are very good, but most of them lack a little bit of masterpiece intensity and energy. It's very little indeed in my opinion. The other four songs are almost pure progart with dynamic sense of energy! And so, very difficult and unsure 4.4 stars for me!!!

Report this review (#208483)
Posted Tuesday, March 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars While this is not my favorite Gentle Giant release, it does contain a number of great songs.

The opening Just the Same, as well as the the next two tracks, would come off much better in a live setting. However, they are sufficiently well developed and arranged here to give great pleasure to the listener. The only major difference being the somewhat odd and disjointed instrumental breaks that are used on the studio album, which don't really seem to work as well as the more seamless and different live instrumental breaks (especially in Free Hand, where Green does a blazing solo over a completely different backing that is missing here). But nonetheless these songs continue to demonstrate the compositional dexterity and cleverness of this great band. Free Hand is still one of my favorite Giant songs, in any form.

And who can fail to be impressed by the incredible vocal acrobatics of On Reflection. This is the kind of thing Neal Morse can only try to imitate, yet never approach the complexity and sublime melodic interplay of this single track. It's like a manifesto of all that makes this band great, as they repeat the madness first with a single instrument backing each vocal part, then doing the whole thing instrumentally. Incredible stuff.

Time to Kill is a bit less interesting to me, and comes off as somewhat disjointed. I'm not sure what they were trying to achieve musically with this, but for the most part it's lost on me. Still, not a bad song, and the ancient electronic sounds of old Pong game always make me smile (it was the first video game I ever saw when I was around 8 years old, and I was amazed by it at the far we've come in just 30 years!).

His Last Voyage is one of my favorite Giant songs of all time. It features a lovely Kerry Minnear vocal over a beautiful 12 string guitar progression. This is offset by a somewhat typical (by this point in the bands career) counterpoint descending instrumental bit, which at first seems somewhat awkward in the context of the song, but later reveals itself as an interesting transitional device. This leads to a fantastic counterpoint vocal section, that is eerie and sublime all at the same time, and features some great drumming by Weathers. From here, we break into probably my favorite Gary Green guitar solo of them all. A gritty, bluesy affair with great tension and release. This resolves back into the counterpoint bit and back to the beginning vocals and 12 string to finish. A truly great piece of music if ever there was once.

The last two tracks are a bit of a disappointment after such a great number, but are not bad either. Talybont being a short instrumental similar to the song Acquiring the Taste from the album of the same name (and equally inconsequential), while Mobile is a more rocking number in the vein of some of the In A Glass House material, though not quite as good as those. Again though, not a bad song, and probably suffers more in comparison to the opening 3 tracks and His Last Voyage than it does because of any lack of quality.

So a few great songs, a few average to good songs. In short, a typical Gentle Giant album. That is actually how I think of this album at this point in their career. The next one would be a logical follow up, with a bit more experimentation (not always for the better), before they would make their ill fated attempt to be more accessible. So perhaps the last truly typical Gentle Giant album there would be. A solid 4 star album, probably even pushing up a bit above that. Not a bad place to start for the beginner to this band, but probably better to come to later. Essential if you are a fan of any of their other work and don't have this one yet.

Report this review (#208493)
Posted Tuesday, March 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars IMHO, the absolute peak of Gentle Giant, along with The Power and the Glory.

This album is very special. For myself and (i assume) most others the whole appeal of Gentle Giant lies in their sheer complexity of their music. This obviously has its drawbacks...sometimes their music is just so dense and thick that it can takes countless listens to absorb. Not so with this masterpiece.

On this album, like the last one, our favourite Gentle-men do the unthinkable. They cram all the complexity they are known for into all these tracks, and somehow make each one of them completely catchy! These tracks get stuck in my head, i mean they REALLY swing! With so many instruments and parts being played at once, I don't how they do it! Moreover, I feel like none of these tracks overstay their welcome (which I thought was a bit of an issue on In A Glass House).

The first track, JUST THE SAME, gets things going in splendid fashion. The rythmic clicking which opens the album gives way to a delicious piano riff, then the guitar comes in over that, and before long, the drums and vocals slam their way in. This is a brilliant way to start the album. By presenting the multiple pieces one at a time, GG allows the listener to get a grasp of what they're doing, and the complexity isn't overwhelming. It sounds almost accessible! The track has a most glorious bridge ("I'm just DOING what i want to DO....") with sounds so unique it couldn't be any other band. There is a tremendous keyboard solo through the middle, and by the time the crunchy guitar riff comes back in (along with clapping!) at around 4 minutes in, you'll be hooked. Just try not to sing along as Derek's vocal line comes back in!

Track number 2, ON REFLECTION, is one of their famous "vocal workouts". This is the sort of thing you would find in "Knots" from Octopus or "Design" from In'terview. This is my favourite amongst these GG vocal-based tracks. The complexity of their counterpoint here will blow your mind. And...believe it or not, it is once again catchy as hell! I get this one stuck in my head all the time ("still you stay, tied in your way, changing times...waaaatching signs!"). There is an absolutely beautiful vocal melody (just derek) through the middle of the track. Just when you think the track will be too long, it changes up completely in the last minute. Guitar and keyboards assault from nowhere, and once Weathers starts hitting his drum kit, you know this is an awesome way to end a song.

Onwards to the title track, FREE HAND. One of my favourite GG tracks ever. To me, this honestly as catchy as any hit single, but all the complexity is still there! The piano and guitar which open the track create a haunting but beautiful effect (to use an old cliche). Derek's vocals, as on the whole album, really rock here. Very solid, very clear, they make the riffs seems simpler than they are by providing a lynch pin for your mind to follow. The piano refrain which usually follows the main section is very unusual but will grow on you. The middle section begins as a more developed version of the first few bars of the track, which then develops into something new entirely.

Believe it or not, TIME TO KILL is even catchier than Free Hand. Beginning with a very weird time signature, with some sterling but slightly discordant guitar and keyboard work. Suddenly, out of nowhere, catchy rock and roll emerges in the main section. The band cleverly adds bits and pieces to this main section the first three times it appears. So the second time you hear it, there is more acoustic guitar and percussion. By the third time you hear it, there are ethereal backing vocals as well. It is impossible not to swing along by this point. As much as any other Gentle Giant song ever recorded, I think this is a perfect example of how popular and experimental music meet favourably.

HIS LAST VOYAGE is the albums most tranquil piece. However, unlike some of the gentler pieces on their older albums (like An Inmate's Lullaby) this one really appeals to me. The melodies are absolutely riveting and sung so well. As they tend to do, GG change it up just before it gets boring. The song breaks in to a very jazzy new section, with layered vocals that will send you positively floating if you're listening on headphones. Then a masterful rock n'roll guitar solo to close proceedings.

What can I say about TALYBONT? It's clearly the worst track on the album. Truthfully, that's not saying much, as the other tracks are all so superlative. Well, this has a very medieval feeling which is pleasant and it doesn't really do anything to offend anybody. It's short, under three minutes, and therefore does not ruin the flow of the album or anything like that. I should add that I do NOT consider it filler, merely not up to scratch with the other masterpieces on the album.

Well, MOBILE ends the album in about as fantastic a fashion as an album could possibly end! Yet another of my all time favourite GG tracks, this one has violin work which will absolutely permeate your brain. Goodness, the interplay between the guitar, bass and keyboards really do shine here. Once again, the vocal melodies are supremely catchy and hold the track entirely together. The fingertap percussion which accompanies the violin solo through the middle is absolutely inspired, and when the other instruments come back in, there is prog-rock glory for everyone to behold.

Well, it's been a long review! Let me just end on this note: The version I own is the Free Hand In'terview combo from 1998. It sounds very good, but I would practically KILL for a 2009 remaster of this masterwork. I haven't been able to get my hands on the 35th anniversary Free Hand (though i managed to get In'terview). If it sounds better than my version, you can add an imaginary sixth star to the rating!

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Posted Wednesday, April 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Gentle Giant Reaches Its Mature Peak

Free Hand represents Gentle Giant in their full-blown, refined glory. All of the varied elements of their sound are brought together for one last masterpiece. Some have argued that their albums had become fairly formulaic at this point in their career. This is probably true, as for each tune I can point to corresponding songs on earlier albums. Luckily, the examples of the "formula" on Free Hand are often the best of their type. "On Reflection" continues in the tradition of "Knots" and "Proclamation." "His Last Voyage" reminds of "Think of Me with Kindness" and to a lesser extent "A Reunion." But in each case, the Free Hand versions are extremely strong GG tracks, and if this album were the only one a fan had, the entirety of the band's sound would be well represented.

Contrary to many reviewers, I felt In a Glass House was a very uneven album, one that showcased the band pushing new boundaries after the exit of the eldest Shulman, but not quite succeeding. Free Hand is where the more complex and demanding writing style finds its full stride. The mix is much better, the distribution of vocals is smarter, and the band pulls in a little bit of medievalism again late in the album on "Talybont" and "Mobile." The musical device of "hocketing," tossing melodic ideas between instruments like a hot potato, continues as clever as ever. But most of all, the fun, the fire is back. The boys really sound like they're enjoying themselves.

Despite their signature massive syncopation and complex rhythmic structures, songs like the opener "Just the Same" truly groove. Quirky wide vibrato key sounds and fingersnaps are more humorous than cheesy given the complexity of the composition. "On Reflection" contains the a capella work that many fans like myself love the band for. Here, the sound is more traditionally harmonic and choral than some previous work, but still contains the contrapuntal lines that are the band's trademark. The title track starts with a brilliant interweaving instrumental passage before descending into one of Derek Shulman's occasional forced lead vocal moments. The second half morphs through a reprise of the intro, dreamy keyboards with meandering bass lines, harsh staccato riffs, and it works so well that by the time the song is over the average vocal delivery is forgiven.

The remaining songs are all strong GG works, with each member getting a chance to shine, including Gary Green's wah solo on "His Last Voyage" which evokes a bit of Tommy Bolin in the way he hangs onto notes. Kerry Minnear gets some very nice lead vocal spots, and we are treated to some medieval whimsy.

All in all, I would call this the prototypical Gentle Giant album. It displays the band at their most mature, polished, and consistent. There are no weak songs on this album. The production is great, the sonic balance perfectly keeping the focus on the music rather than the recording. Though other albums may have more perfect individual tracks, this album is perhaps Gentle Giant's best, start to finish.

Report this review (#214143)
Posted Wednesday, May 6, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars I've only recently got into Gentle Giant. In fact they're probably the best new band I've heard this year. Oh well, I'm just 25 years too late! The important thing is that it sounds fantastic and fresh even in 2009. In a funny way it reminds me of the way the 'Cardiacs' construct their songs. Gentle Giant are one of the few bands I can listen to very carefully and think to myself 'how the hell do they keep that together with so much stuff going on?. A right clever bunch they were and very experimental. I've heard their first eight albums now and this one is right at the top along with 'In a Glass House'. Free Hand is extremely complex, with frequent changes in tempo and really odd time signatures - sometimes sounding like there's two different beats being played in the same tune! They also make use of vocal counterpoint (contrapuntal to Classical music folk) - where two voices sing two different tunes at a different tempo in the one song! This is the kind of thing that was big in 16th Century Renaissance Europe!
Report this review (#215775)
Posted Thursday, May 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars A quirky and extremely pleasing piece of art. That would best describe Gentle Giant's Free Hand album. While at some times complex or weird, Free Hand also contains upbeat, exciting melodies that sometimes become wonderfully catchy, while never losing an inch of the band's artistic edge.

Gentle Giant in general creates a wonderful sound in their music by putting together varied amounts of rock, medieval, folk, prog, and pop music to create albums filled with several unique songs with strange sounds and wonderful melodies. Free Hand is no exception. From the opening syncopated finger snaps and catchy odd-time keyboard riffs of "Just the Same" to the closing celtic violin bounces of "Mobile" the listener will be thrown through a wonderful ride of polyphonic eclectic prog, never subjected to 'more of the same' type prog. Instead, Gentle Giant prefers to go above and beyond and provide masterful compositions that will certainly please the prog listener.

All the tracks are wonderful and varied, each with its own unique personality and overall sound, so really there are no standouts. Either that or all the tracks stand out. Such is one of the effects of having such a well put together album by masters like Gentle Giant. Free Hand is an incredible album that everyone should listen to.

Report this review (#219922)
Posted Friday, June 5, 2009 | Review Permalink
TGM: Orb
4 stars Free Hand, Gentle Giant The man who first proclaimed that the progressive rock musicians shall wear capes and play solos and not, under any circumstances, write catchy songs obviously forgot to tell Gentle Giant. Their very credible 1975 release Free Hand is a full text of how-to-play-well-without-being-accused-of-masturbation, how-to-write-songs-that-are-both-involving-and-catchy and, more importantly, how-to-put-out-a-great-album. Admittedly, the excitement of this one is somewhat consolidated on the superb side one, and pleasant as the medievally flavoured work of side 2 is, it somehow stops at intelligent, pleasant movement rather than making the murky transition to a full-fledged classic.

The opener is pretty much symbolic of the album as a whole, catchy as hell, opening with the infectiously obtuse shifting of handclaps from speaker to speaker and a bouncy piano part. Gary Greene and Ray Shulman leap to create a polyphonic pop song, taking in its stride the lively saxophone-heavy verses, a chorus introduced by a cool keyboard hook and a bizarre instrumental interlude, moving from a well-thought out shiny synthesiser over a calm groove to a theatrical bit of bending moog mastery with a much sharper jazzy backdrop from Ray Shulman and John Weathers. A happily rocking guitar repeat of the piano riff leads us back into the song proper, and before you know it, the chugging bass rhythm and handclaps have taken us out again. Worth mentioning, Minnear (keys) and Ray Shulman (bass) give great performances on this one.

Now, how I'm meant to review On Reflection is beyond me, but I'll try... here Gentle Giant's amazing capacity for arrangement comes to the fore, with complex vocal parts interweaved with classical density and medieval flavour, interspersed with the band's incredible range of instruments. Derek Shulman's bouncy and impersonal energy on lyrics such as 'In my way did I use you/Do you think that I really abused you/On reflection now, it doe-esn't ma-atter' is matched perfectly by Kerry Minnear's lush yet fragile and affected 'I'll remember the good things how can I forget/ all the years that we shared in our way', and the complimentary gradually introduced xylophone, glockenspiel and piano tracking the various multi-layered vocal parts supplement the feel of individual voices crucial to the song's lyrical theme, as the exquisite low-tempo keyboard-and-bass support for Minnear's great vocal, and with the introduction of subtle violins and cello, this reflective moment leads up to the energetic burst out of the 'all around/all around/ all around...' block harmony before the great rock instrumental conclusion, with bass, guitar and organ trading parts just about every time and yet finding the space to add in. An impression you get from the instrumental parts of this one, which maybe wasn't there in the Giant's early albums, is simply what great musicians they are. Ray Shulman's bass in particular, is probably among my favourite albums for the instrument ever, and this instrumental burst is a prime example of how to play great interesting starts while serving the song absolutely. OK, maybe the fade isn't a perfectly satisfying ending from a musical point of view, but the idea of happily going off from this failed relationship to do one's own thing is suitably conveyed by the defiant melodies springing up over this, and I can't think of a better way to give that impression. A top notch Giant piece, and certainly among my favourites.

If at the time of reading, as at the time of writing, this song is a title track here, open another tab/scroll up and click the play button and I can say with a fair bit of confidence that you shouldn't be disappointed. A typically punctuated Minnear piano and a kicking Gary Greene riff, backed up by its bizarre pauses, an incredibly fun and odd bit of bass from the virtuosic Ray Shulman, as well as some choice drum fills from John Weathers, who, if overshadowed by the other band members is a rock of consistent creativity throughout this record. If you can work out exactly what's going on in the instrumental sections, the first laden with clever piano dissonants and the second a minimal guitar-driven thing with some mystical percussion and a weird marine-sounding keyboard, bulked up by Greene's jabs, you're a braver man than I. The melody is just fantastic, and the little details present everywhere. The quintessential eclectic song? Well, either way, great pop music elaborated beyond recognition and with Gentle Giant's charm and great complexity.

Time To Kill continues quite strongly, opening with a sort of inverted outro, taking thrumming static and suddenly throwing in twenty or thirty seconds of a building riff crammed full of their wonderfully obtuse musical knowledge and then pulling together to give the impression that they're aiming at a sort of running-out-conclusion already as if on the end of On Reflection... but they don't. The shift is straight on into a slightly remorseful rock song with some of the bulky vocals and a suitably great lead from Derek Shulman, alternating between immensely musical band set-ups and a sort of prowling lead bass thing hunting the voice. The wonderful vocal harmonies are almost the precursor to some of the stuff on the later pop albums that I've heard, if much, much better... again, a fade on the end isn't really satisfying, but otherwise a very clever and catchy song... Gentle Giant are fantastic at the combination of the two.

The somewhat tragic and reminiscing His Last Voyage is the album's first sign of flagging just a little... the bulk of it is a sweet medieval-sounding vocal section, and much as Gary Greene's gorgeous acoustic guitar and the band joining together, it goes on a relatively long time for a section where making out the words is a challenge and also one where it doesn't really mesh with the intelligently created introduction and interludes set up to add some flavour for it. Now, in spite of this pleasant but slightly inelegant bit, at the three minute mark, it transforms, a sharp coordination between the piano and bass and a set of remarkable airy fills by Weathers are overlaid with an equally ethereal vocal to give a sort of surrealistic web of ghostlike atmosphere over which Gary Greene finally gets the blues-driven, but creative, solo he seems to have been itching for all album, and a return to the tranquil part brings a real conclusion to a mixed, but at times wonderful, piece.

Talybont (a Welsh town, by the way; nice place, I've been walking there, and the music fits it nicely) is more of a hearts-on-sleeves medieval piece, with twin recorders and a harpsichord; there is a clear main theme throughout, which is frequently echoed, and the superb production of the album really allows some of the song's subtleties to stand out as highlights here, whether in the form of a solid clavichord or clavinet contrast to the playful main theme, or in John Weathers' matching drum work, placing much more emphasis on a mood than a beat. Wonderful work by Minnear and Gary Greene in particular here... overall, a very satisfying piece of music, achieving character without going to the lengths of the rest of the album to do so.

The ending Mobile is, erm, wearing. Yes, it's clever compositionally, I can remember the main theme, and the dense polyphony is still there, and there are a huge number of neat catches, but, by this point in the album, it maybe feels a little odd after the two cute medieval numbers to return to the style of the first half, albeit with a somewhat more prominent lead vocal and a set of discernable and unimpressive lyrics. OK, so the band have a boundless childlike energy and musical knowledge that allows them to slam in vocoders, violins, wah-wah guitar work, suspicious piano work and a creative intensity to shame their contemporaries and their successors, but I can't really say that, either because it's simply not as memorable as half one, or because my musical brain is getting tired and I'm preparing to switch off before Interview (ah, the banes of two-in-one-CDs)... anyway, as a stand-alone song, it's good, but as the ending to such a fantastic album, it doesn't really hold up, and I can't say the random wait-then-drum roll ending is ahead of the fades that characterise the rest of this one.

So, all in all, rush out to your nearest purveyor of quality music, which probably remains either or unless you're less of an almost-but-not-quite-rural unfortunate than I am, and acquire or order this album. Or listen to the sample; that might be a good idea first. Alas, the fifth star eludes this one on the grounds that a few of the endings aren't exactly decisive, when the band's ability to write a song ending is really not in question, and Mobile and His Last Voyage fail to stand out in the way the other five songs do. Ah, Gentle Giant, forever stuck on four stars, despite all the talent and individuality... should be heading for In A Glass House and Octopus soon... see if that changes it. Worth mentioning, this is one hell of a bass album, and you get an impression of virtuosity as well as the creativity, individuality and emotion that has, up 'til now, been a constant feature of Gentle Giant's repertoire.

Rating: Four Stars, 12/15 Favourite Track: tough choice; maybe Time To Kill or On Reflection

Report this review (#220916)
Posted Saturday, June 13, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
5 stars Who would believe me now that my hands are free, that my hands are free?

The last really great and probably the most accessible of Gentle Giants albums, Free Hand proved that the band could write all types of songs. We are treated to excellent instrumentals, advanced vocal numbers, ballads and advanced song structure in general. The album kicks in with some of the catchiest sounds ever heard on a '70s record and that same flow is maintained all the way up to the end.

The composition that really made me feel completely mesmerized was On Reflection. The track is basically Knots pushed even further with some truly spectacular results especially once Kerry Minnear gets a shot in the spotlight. Eventually the band would try to do a similar piece on their next album titled Design but the results are far from the magic that we get here.

Free Hand is simply a masterpiece of an album that should be in every great prog rock music collection. Unfortunately the great album streak that the band had maintained up to this point would eventually go downhill with the later releases. Well, at least Gentle Giant had the decency to disband before the '80s really kicked in and we were spared some possible disasters.

***** star songs: Just The Same (5:34) On Reflection (5:41) Free Hand (6:14) Talybont (2:43)

**** star songs: Time To Kill (5:08) His Last Voyage (6:27) Mobile (5:05)

Total Rating: 4,55

Report this review (#254385)
Posted Saturday, December 5, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars |B+| One of the pinnacles of creative composition.

There are few bands with the kind of devoted and musically educated fan-base that Gentle Giant has, and for obvious reasons. Any open-minded musicologist, with an education in music theory and history, should go nuts for this band. Compositional techniques dating to the early Renaissance all the way up to the creation of the album are used, and all in harmony (pun not intended), to create the marvelously eclectic band, Gentle Giant. And this album, Free Hand, is probably among the most mature and precise works of their discography. I feel, though, it slightly lacks the freshness and almost youthful vitality of many albums preceding it, thus is ever so slightly stale yet still very vibrant and now experienced, like a person who has hit his early to mid-thirties. This album still borderlines a five star, one of those albums that just barely falls through the cracks of being a masterpiece of artistic music, yet for which I still of great reverence.

Elements typical (and brilliant) of Gentle Giant are prevalent, starting their pieces in unique and sometimes quite humerus ways, as the opener shows with the rhythmic snapping. We have tons of blending of various instruments, timbres, genres, influences, and compositional techniques from various periods of music history. Counterpoint everywhere, yet flowing wonderfully from track to track. Flawless execution of musicianship and recording techniques. All as usual, only in this album they all come together particularly beautifully.

However, this is by no means another clone of everything the band had done before. As great composers should, they keep variety in their work. Here we have some quite intentionally catchier songs, yet the sanctity of the composition was hardly compromised for it; in fact, ingeniously enough, the craziness and complication of the music adds to the catchy quality in a strange way, as evidenced by the album title track. On Reflection is the strongest track, and probably the band's best work of their entire career; in it, the band pokes fun referring to their own composition techniques with "all a round, all a round." The weakest track is Mobile, which in it of itself is a remarkable weak track.

I suppose in a way this album is virtually a masterpiece, but I never developed the sort of emotional attachment to it, as with all albums I rate as masterpiece status. I have high standards for my music, and this just barely doesn't meet the "epic" bar, as the music lacks the youthful vibrancy of such albums as Octopus and In a Glass House. Another one of Gentle Giant's fine works that every progger should hear at some point, and one of the best eclectic albums out there.

Report this review (#255289)
Posted Wednesday, December 9, 2009 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars The first three songs on this album, Just The Same, On Reflection and Free Hand, all rank as some of the best songs Gentle Giant have ever recorded. It's too bad that the remainder of the album, the songs that made up side two of the vinyl LP, don't fare quite as well. While these four songs are not bad, they don't achieve the greatness that the side 1 songs have. Otherwise this album would have ranked five stars from me.

The first three songs are full of the complexity of structure that makes the best Gentle Giant a true wonder to linen to. The vocal arrangements are like no other band's, the instumental arrangements are a pieced together like a puzzle, and everything falls into place perfectly.

The second half, while having much of those same qualities, sounds rushed, and less intense than the preceding songs. Again, not bad, but none are high up on my play list.

Report this review (#256454)
Posted Wednesday, December 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Gentle Giant - Free Hand (1975)

And the Gentle Giant does it again. Number seven of the big GG8.

I really liked The Power and the Glory and the next effort Free Hand is another example of Gentle Giant's brilliance. The naive period of the first three albums is long gone and Gentle Giant sounds like it knows what it wants on Free Hand. The music is highly sophisticated, but always functional. For some this might be to prog, but I think it's a great example of what bands in the classic period wear capable of. Though Gentle Giant sounds highly professional, this album lacks some ground-braking ideas that made their early works so brilliant and essential.

On this album there are only great tracks, but some seem to be even more special. Just the Same is nice positive mood opening song that reminds me a bit of the opening track of The Power and the Glory. On Reflection is an four part vocal masterpiece with great instrumentation resembling Knots on the Octopus album. This track always get me in a euphoric mood, it's just so much music! The other tracks on the album are all very rewarding, but not as experimental as On Reflection. Therefore I won't discuss side two.

Conclusion. Another great Gentle Giant album, but not one of my favourites. After their fourth album Gentle Giant has found it's sound and they kept making great albums, but sometimes I miss the naive experimentation of the first four records. This leaves us with a very professional, progressive album with lots of great Gentle Giant material. That means I will give it a very very big four stars again.

Report this review (#260794)
Posted Thursday, January 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars Ok, I will have some more explaining to do about this band where my feelings are concerned. So far I have done two reviews (the debut+Three Friends) and gave them respectively 3 and 4 stars. That could give the impression I quite like the band but this is not the case. Here we have an example of an album by them that I'm not at all fond of. And strange enough it's one of their most popular ones amongst fans. A fan I'm not obviously and there will be something I don't understand when I listen to their music.

The most important thing that makes me feel very ambivalent about them is: why does a band that is so talented (at least I agree about that) need to play their music in such a daft way. Anyone who can explain this to me is welcome to send me a pm. But I haven't got a clue. Take Just the Same for instance, a song that's all about rhythm and a-rhythm, so far no problem. But what on earth is that crazy key sound doing in the middle for several times. It makes a complete fool of the song and band. Wacky stuff and why ???? It's the same as with their famous song Knots from their album Octopus where the foolishness is expressed by the vocals. I really don't see the point when they play their music like this. And they do this on this album a lot more than on the two previous albums I reviewed. On those the normal music prevailed but on Free Hand there are plenty moments that I cannot appreciate. The only aspect that's really nice on Free Hand is the medieval touch (recorder !) in two of the songs.

I will make this my last review of a Gentle Giant album. I think I already witnessed their two best for my taste and the rest will both be torture for me as well as for the readers and mainly the fans who will get annoyed by those reviews. I've heard enough and I've had enough. I have been confronted with the reason why I don't really like Gentle Giant and will leave them alone from now on. Objectively I can hear this is special and I even understand why many people love them. But I also understand why just as many don't and to be honest, I'm one of them. I know I should give the album at least three stars for originality and quality. But the ratings we give are personal and so I will give my true opinion and will leave it at two.

Report this review (#262531)
Posted Tuesday, January 26, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars The best 37 minutes of my life.

Free Hand is Gentle Giant's 7th studio album in my opinion the best up to date. The album is Gentle Giant in their peak, with a perfect line-up and a perfect tracklist.

The album starts with one of GG's most famous pieces, Just the Same. Finger snaps? Gentle Giant is known for their odd album beginnings, I mean, The Runaway much? Kerry enters with his piano and the first thing you can think of is The Power and the Glory's Proclamation. Thinking that the verse is in 4/4 is just insane! Most of the times people will compare what the song sounds like, but Gentle Giant sounds like nothing ever heard before, they've invented a genre, and that genre is called, Really Effing Progressive Rock!

On Reflection starts with its famous vocal polymeter: "In my way did I use you, do you think that I really abused you, on reflection now, it doesn't matter." How can you say that this is nothing short than perfect? This is my favourite in the whole Gentle Giant catalogue and I doubt that it will ever change, but go figure, things can change!

Free Hand's opening piano is a pretty well known song opening in the prog world, but then, everything fades away, and Kerry Minnear's clavinet enters with the super famous line? Pum pa pow, paloopa decku pow, pa pa palalala tiki tew daku pow, and BOOM, the song starts. "Now that my hands are free, from the ties, from the ties."

Time to Kill is, once again, a song that is special in its own unique way. Ticking clocks explode into good old Gentle Giant riffs in GG's good old 9/4ths time signature!

I won't review every song, and it is hard for me as this is in my opinion the world's most perfect album, but if that's what my readers want, that's what I'll give!

To sum it up in as few words as possible, Free Hand is a masterpiece, an album that can't be recreated, no matter how hard you try. An album of which no song could be covered perfectly, with every instrument and every note. An album that should be learnt from! An awesome part of Gentle Giant's AWESOME catalogue, and an essential addition to any Really Effing Progressive Rock music collection!

So, 5/5 for being a Gentle Giant album and being perfect.

Report this review (#264357)
Posted Friday, February 5, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars If you're new to Gentle Giant, this is a great album to get into. It follows basically what progsters should expect out of their music; odd, complex compositions, lots of dynamic and stylistic changes, intricate vocal harmonies, unusual time signatures and the odd non-rock instrument here or there. FREE HAND has all of that stuff, and it's at least a decent album in that regard.

My problem is I don't like the prog rock I'm hearing to be ''expected''; I'd prefer some edgy ''twist'' that makes the music more interesting than perceived. Gentle Giant in the past was always has given me a fix in this respect, but FREE HAND wouldn't do that. To put it bluntly, the music here sounds rather forced. All of the metres, changes, instrumentations, etc. sound expected, losing a natural vibe to it that really can't be explained.

Maybe it's because after hearing three previous Gentle Giant albums, this one sounds just too ''ordinary'' by comparison; rather bland offering nothing adventurous for me. ''Free Hand'', ''Time to Kill'' and ''Mobile'' are all terrific songs, but they lack a certain creative spark that ignited things like ''The Runaway'' or ''The Boys in the Band''. There's plenty of good music here that newbie progsters will enjoy thoroughly and objectively speaking, FREE HAND has high prog credentials. However, if you've heard other earlier albums by this group, this one will sound like a slight disappointment.

Report this review (#270204)
Posted Sunday, March 7, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Perhaps I'm missing something, or perhaps after years of familiarity with this album, something has not yet fully "grown" on me. However, ss of now, I just don't view Free Hand as great album by any means. In fact, I believe I prefer each album that came before it. In addition, nothing from this album would crack my top 10--maybe even 15 or 20--all time Gentle Giant songs.

Does that make this a bad album, or an album not worth having? Definitely not! There is plenty of solid nu-Giant to be found here, and it still has that unique Giant quirkiness.

Highlights: Just the Same, His Last Voyage, Mobile, Talybont. Again, these are simply good, not great, songs to my ears. The opener is fun, with some syncopated finger snaps throughout, and containing a pleasant, soothing mellotron mid-section. His Last Voyage is at its core a very simple song--particularly considering the band--but it is nicely paced, with nice use of vibraphone (I think that's what it is at least!). Mobile might be the most classic Giant song on here, with a free-flowing happiness that is lessened in their later albums.

There are no dud songs on here, but the rest simply hasn't grabbed me as of yet. The title track strikes me as very repetitive, and here Derek's voice is a bit grating for me. On Reflection is one of the reasons we love the Giant--adventurous and creative. This is certainly not Knots II, but unfortunately sounds a bit overproduced (at least the vocal rounds) and perhaps forced. Still a fun song regardless.

Free Hand is never great, but overall quite solid. Maybe I'll come to regard it higher over time, but for now, this does not rank up with Gentle Giant's best.

Report this review (#285066)
Posted Saturday, June 5, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars One thing that cannot be said about Gentle Giant is that they don't live up to their reputation as a weird band. If there was some way to define the Eclectic Prog genre with a single band Gentle Giant would be my leading candidate. No one can even dream of making the music they do. Their music has so many qualities. It is at once phenomenally British, totally unpredictable, stunningly complex, acoustic and totally rocking. It's easy to see why they never took off as a major commercial act. They are simply too good for that. What little public profile of theirs which has lasted into the conformity driven 21st Century is totally in spite of themselves, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Free Hand is a *cough cough* eclectic mix of tracks which don't all sound entirely alike, but couldn't have come from any other group. It rocks a little harder on average than Acquiring the Taste and has less overt Jazz influences. They also have chosen to proceed with atonality in a way that many rock bands would be loath to do. One thing to know about the songs on Free Hand or any other GG recording is that there is no way they will stay the same all the way through. They are a truly "progressive" band.

Free Hand 's leading track is Just the Same, it's bouncy and as far as Gentle Giant works go, comes in on the more conventional end of the spectrum. What does that mean for GG; plenty of stylistic shifts, long instrumental interludes and a variety of sounds which is unmatched. Just the Same, has great lead vocals and is for the most part quite upbeat. It's an exciting way to start an album.

Following Just the Same is On Reflection, which is by far my favourite Gentle Giant track. What's so great about it? Two words: Counter Melody. This is a technical masterpiece which comes off as just so much music to my ears. No other band could have accomplished it. If you don't decide to check out Free Hand that's fine, but you have to hear On Reflection, possibly the greatest vocal piece out there.

After the exceptional high of On Reflection we move on to the title track which is one of GG's harder rocking selections. Don't be fooled , it's still Gentle Giant. It's simply impossible for them to stay to one thought for too long. It also features one of the strangest sounding guitar and piano duets ever and it sounds great. It is revisited in several snippets early on and then given and extended more mellow musical interlude which doesn't quite live up to the harder rocking segments. It shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that the vocals are still top drawer.

Time to Kill begins with some strange electron sounds followed some harder guitar work, only to give way to the smoothest track on the album. During the main portion of the track, the show is stolen a mellowed out guitar riff which repeats throughout. During the secondary parts, the bass tends to play a major role. The interludes this time round are mostly piano/keyboard and vocal showcases. It's a cool track, but it doesn't stick out quite like On Reflection or the title track. It also concludes on a fairly sudden fade out which I always consider unfortunate.

After killing time is his last voyage. It feels more in the vein of the tracks on Acquiring the Taste. I doesn't come clattering down on the listener like a tonne of rock and roll bricks like the earlier ones do. Up to this point it makes it feel like a bit of an odd duck on the album. I'll be shocked when I hear a Gentle Giant album which treads over the same ground twice. Following the switch up, and there is always a switch up, the cymbals and electric guitars kick in and this get decidedly jazzy. It still manages to stay on the lower key side thanks to a dominant piano playing in a minor key.

Talybont, as Wikipedia informs me is a small village in Wales. It's an instrumental track which fuses some rock and roll elements with a mostly medieval sound. It is unfortunately short clocking in less than three minutes. It still manages to explore some interesting sounds especially with the plucking section which comes towards the middle. It's only fault in is not being long enough.

Rounding out Free Hand is Mobile. It too draws on folk influences through its prominent fiddle. It almost sounds like they'd been listening to a bunch of Kansas before they wrote it. And not simply because of the fiddle, there is plenty of aggressive piano and guitar work which reminds me of our American friends. Even the shorter instrumental portion has a southern boogie fusion feel sort of like the Dreggs. There are a few parts of Mobile which don't quite gel with the overall cheery mood, but they tend to pass quickly.

Free Hand is a really fun album from start to finish. I think it would make a great party album, if you could actually find enough people to have a Gentle Giant friendly party. And no, it wouldn't count as a party without girls. For us here at PA, it's as good as gold. I give Free Hand a very solid four stars out of five.

Report this review (#288123)
Posted Friday, June 25, 2010 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
3 stars I'm sitting here and thinking about this album. And I think, well it's nice and all, but it's far from GG's best. But then I think of the songs individually, and none of them are bad at all. They're quite quirky and catchy and yet pure GG. But I think the problem lies with the fact that they are catchy. I've always had this ethos- a good prog album is never good on the first listen. I loved this album from the very beginning, and listened to it quite a lot. Now I think that just about after the 20th listen is when things started to get a bit tiring. The hooks that are here are starting to get annoying. But there are definitely some very big positive points: The much talked about "On Reflection" is amazing, and the Capella beginning is one of the most creative things heard in progressive rock. The starting track "Just The Same" I still rather enjoy, but it too is a bit filled with hooks. The two tracks that really annoy me are the title track and "Time To Kill". This tracks are just a bit too, well, "rock". It misses a bit of the things that make GG unique and are both again, filled with a bunch of hooks. "His Last Voyage" is actually really good, the beginning sounding as some of the most challenging riffs I have heard. The two closing tracks are fairly strong. "Talybont" is probably my favorite track, really nailing the medieval/renaissance feel GG has that makes them special. "Mobile" is also very good.

I feel like this album now that I think about it is pretty good. But then I listen to it again and find that unlike "Octopus" or "In A Glass House", this album is missing some of the depth that made those two other albums and some of the other GG albums (Giant For A Day of course excluded) enjoyable listens after the 100th and the 1000th listen. Definite buy for any GG fan, and for those just starting with GG this is a pretty good start, but this is missing what made GG really unique.

Report this review (#293002)
Posted Sunday, August 1, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars This being my first Gentle Giant album, I must say I came away very pleased! "Free Hand" is fun and sophisticated, with superb musicianship throughout.

The biggest thing that sets "Free Hand" apart from many other prog albums, in my mind, is its relatively light touch-there's no draining self-seriousness or brooding arrogance here. Instead the album has a jovial, almost bouncy tone to it, recalling Medieval boozefests in tone as well as spirit. And of course, the musicianship is exquisite on all fronts. The guitar and keyboard intertwine seamlessly, avoiding the disjointed feeling that many keyboardists can add to a band's sound. Derek Shulman's vocals are exquisite-he's forceful when he needs to be and feathery as can be during the album's softer moments, and keeps a playful tone throughout while pulling off intricate harmonies that would turn the heads of even the most jaded vocalists. Most surprising of all is the full, thick bass work Ray Shulman: He inhabits a space that's somewhere between John Wetton and Chris Squire, and while he's not quite as unique as either of those bassists he leaves a distinct stamp on the music nonetheless. Finally, the woodwinds and horns are subtle and graceful, completely eschewing the idea that adding orchestral elements to a song makes it pompous and bombastic.

If there's one area where the band falters, it's that they will occasionally tarry a little too long with their instrumental chops. This is most notable in the title track, which would have been a much stronger, tighter song had it not been interrupted with a mellow keyboard solo that takes up nearly half the runtime. One can't help but wonder what this album might have been if they'd managed to shave off a few minutes of instrumentals throughout and pack in a couple more tuneful, memorable songs with that extra time.

Still, if you're looking for a smart, charming album without one bolt or screw out of place, "Free Hand" is the record for you. The band is a breath of fresh air amongst the standard canon and I look forward to hearing more of their work soon!

Report this review (#302338)
Posted Wednesday, October 6, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars "Free Hand" has received mixed feelings from me a number of times. There seems to be something missing that was present in their prior albums; it just doesn't satisfy the listener (me, in this case) quite as well as I thought it would. The album seems to be taking many paths within one song, which in this case, is not particularly a good thing. There is so much going on (plethora of instruments, vocal harmonies) but, it all just emits aimlessly, with no regard for pleasant listening.

However, their "short song formula" never fails to work. I am quite impressed that they are among a few bands that can jam so much into a four minute song and yet make it sound captivating, but not necessarily easy on the ears (especially in this album). Still, I would not recommend this album for the newcomer to GG's music, at least not until listening to their earlier, seminal works. The album as a whole seems inconsistent. As soon as the music finds something good, it does a 180 degree turn towards something completely different. I enjoy the tempo changes but it seems to occur at the most random of places.

Don't get me wrong. Some moments, especially on "On Reflection' and "Talybont", are quite excellent but soon dissipate into something difficult to digest. There is not a track that really stands out. They seem to be "part of the crowd".

Be wary of all those five star ratings for "Free Hand" and try approaching it with caution. Overall, it's a good album, but, it's just that, good. Nothing spectacular and therefore I deem it not essential.

1. "Just the Same" - 8/10

2. "On Reflection" - 7.5/10

3. "Free Hand" - 7/10

4. "Time to Kill" - 7.5/10

5. "His Last Voyage" - 7/10

6. "Talybont" - 8.5/10

7. "Mobile" - 7.5/10

53/7 = 75.71% = 3 stars

Report this review (#303604)
Posted Tuesday, October 12, 2010 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
2 stars Free Hand is another fan favorite, but while I have generally been enjoying my ride through the GG discography, this album is an absolute turn-off; it's cold, mechanical, contrived and snobby. I guess my main gripe is that I can't find anything spontaneous or emotive about this album.

GG are a talented bunch, but if their skills are not backed up by memorable songs, their music easily turns into the kind of mathematical constructed precision that I appreciate in a BMW limousine but that is very far removed from what I want to spend my time listening to.

This album sounds dead to me, it leaves no room for interpretation, it's over-rationalized and far-fetched. The only track that I can get into is His Last Voyage, one of those eerie GG songs that clearly show where Toby Driver got his ideas from. I also can't see the point of the continuing medieval madrigal type of singing. After 7 albums it's become really tiresome, a gimmick rather then anything else.

I always appreciated many songs on the preceding GG albums, and Acquiring the Taste even established itself as a favorite car-album past summer, but when it comes to their latter-day albums I'm obviously missing something, that incomprehensible something that makes these albums so appreciated with fans. Hardly 2 stars for me.

Report this review (#308068)
Posted Wednesday, November 3, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars I was quite irritated while I was willing to post my initial review for this work. And this music worked so much on my nerves while reviewing this album, that I decided to leave it for awhile and give it another chance to rate better on my musical scale.

But the more I listen to this album, the more I get upset with the music I am listening to. As long as instrumental parts are concerned, I can cope with it. But these vocals are seriously working on my nerves. They are an integrant part of the GG world though. The opening "Just the Same" is a perfect summary of my earlier description.

"On Reflection" conveys some musical masturbation which is quite embarrassing to my ears. And I can only bear the title track with difficulties. Jazz music and annoying vocals: this is my perception of the next and title track. I can understand that there are other opinions than mine. I just hope that fellow reviewers will also understand that there are other opinions as theirs. If I look at the ratings, I belong to the 2% rating this album with only two stars.

The second part of the album can't raise my enthusiasm either, on the contrary. The same irritating mood prevails ("Last Voyage", "Mobile"). I can't help: I don't like this album.

Report this review (#308521)
Posted Saturday, November 6, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars I think I'm bound to dislike Gentle Giant.Like I said in my review of "Octopus", I do not know what my problem with this band, but ... I am not able to rock this complex and anti-commercial of them (well at least it was until this anti-commercial album that I'm commenting, "Free Hand"). I really do not understand why the albums of GG are considered masterpieces.

At least "Free Hand" takes advantage of "Octopus"and "The Power and the Glory": the melodies are not so bad, with higher harmonies vocals.But ... there is no memorable songs (although I think "His last voyage "and" Talybont "deserve a special mention). The sound is cold and lifeless at times, which will not improve my opinion.

3.5 stars for this album, although I find it superior to "Octopus" and "The Power and the Glory. "

Report this review (#414293)
Posted Thursday, March 10, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Ooh, this is better. The band is still taking the same complex, tweaked path they always have, but unlike on much of the last couple of albums, it sounds to me that the band really took the time to think its ideas through before committing them to tape. I mean, they haven't compromised their bizarritude one bit, but instead of blindly accepting every discordant and overly involved idea that passed through their fingers, it seems that they bothered to consider whether it was worth it to accept any given idea. Furthermore, while Octopus may have been their "accidental pop" prog masterpiece, many of the songs here could easily have passed, in the hands of a less ambitious band, as perfectly solid 'normal' pop songs. It should be no wonder that, as complex and proggy much of Free Hand is, it managed to chart respectably, and for several reasons may be the ideal introduction to the band.

Indeed, the first half of this album is nigh unto perfect, easily my second favorite side from the band (my favorite, of course, is side one of Octopus). I guess that there could be more Green and less Minnear (Kerry has somehow carefully snuck his way into the dominant instrumentalist of the band, for better and less for worse, sort of), but otherwise it would be hard to come up with complaints. "Just the Same" gets off to a startling beginning, with snapping fingers (Those pop sell-outs! They should change their names to Alterna-Giant or Gentle-Gianternative!), but on the other hand, they're alternating from channel to channel in an untrivial rhythm, so I guess it's not that shocking. But then you hear this bouncy keyboard line that bleeds poppiness (until you realize it too is going off a bizarre rhythm), then it's echoed by guitar chords that bleed poppiness (with the same realization), then Derek sings a catchy-as-hell (but not conventional) vocal melody while all sorts of strange things are going on underneath to ... poppy effect. Yup. On paper, this combination of raw elements would look anything but memorable, but sure enough, they pull it off. Of course, it also has a bunch of nice atmospheric mid-sections, some with Gary playing slow and pretty lines, some dominated by sax-keyboard jams, none of which manage to detract from the "main" song material or seem particularly 'tacked-on.' Great stuff.

Next up is "On Reflection," which has hands down the most spectacular group vocal arrangement by any art-rock band I've ever heard. They manage to convey a major medieval atmosphere with vocal lines that would make any modern classical composer proud, and the way they intertwine with each other, both melodywise and in the timbre of the members' individual voices, is something that I find myself coming back to again and again on this album. Of course, it's also multi-part, so there are multiple themes in which these amazing harmonies get to frolic, with reprises of the opening coming at just the right points. Yet as great as this track may be, it does not overshadow its successor, the side-closing title track. The opening is a terrific example of how complexity can still be beautiful, and the main song part, which is basically some sort of preverted progressive funk, has to be one of the best combinations of "tweaked" and "memorable" the band ever came up (that's a high compliment, of course). It's screaming out for a go-nuts guitar solo in the middle, which unfortunately never comes, but I definitely don't mind much while listening.

Unfortunately, the second side doesn't entertain me as much as the first (else it would easily get a *****). "Time to Kill" would sound great on, say, The Power and the Glory, but coming out of the shadow of the title track, it doesn't grab me much. Then again, even when I listen to the second side on its own, the track doesn't strike me as particularly impressive - just a decent, strange pop song. Likewise, while I like the jig- atmosphere of the closing "Mobile" quite a bit, not to mention parts of the melody, it still doesn't make me jump up and down for joy. As for the other two, "Talybont" is an ok keyboard-driven instrumental (I'll say this at least - it beats the snot out of the instrumentals on Genesis' Wind and Wuthering), but man, you don't know how much I find myself longing for some trumpets or cellos or glockenspiel. Still, this is the side that has "The Last Voyage," which starts out sounding like something I'd expect on a good Steve Hackett solo album, then gets weird like all GG does inevitably does, but always remains purrty.

All in all, then, it's definitely one of the better GG albums out there. It definitely shows a regained focus at making music that makes sense while still being weird, as opposed to the last album, where the weirdness was mostly running the show. Unfortunately, the balance was about to come undone again, to ill effect.

Report this review (#428814)
Posted Thursday, April 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Along with the previous two albums, this Gentle Giant work of art is an absolute masterpiece. The overall sound of this album is mostly a combination of the eclectic more medieval based compositions of In a Glass House and the super tight funk inspired The Power and The Glory. The supreme complexity of the music is constant throughout and occasionally makes way for some infectious melodies, which I've always felt Gentle Giant had a knack for. Anyone who loves fantastic bass will love listening to the bass on this album. From the first track, the bass is absolutely wild and extremely creative while being funk inspired.

Very highly recommended and masterly crafted eclectic progressive rock.

Report this review (#429416)
Posted Friday, April 8, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars It has taken me quite some time to re-immerse myself into the GG catalogue. I have enjoyed every minute of it. Especially with this one. IMHO, Gentle Giant peaks with this album. The compositions and performances are so masterful and mature, so polished and sublime. Gone are the flashy, cerebral, ever-so complicated, show-off-your-virtuosity-because-you-can songs, here are unique, so intricate

"Just the Same" (9/10) displays some new instruments, the best recording/mix/engineering to date on a GG album, a more laid back feel to the band's song delivery, yet with all band members' virtuosity on full display--especially Ray Shulman at his absolute best on bass.

"On Reflection" (9/10) is not as overboard or "masturbatory" as some reviewers complain. It is tidy, melodic, makes lyrical sense, and does an amazing job of transporting one to a time long past. I find this one much more accessible than "So Sincere."

"Free Hand" (9/10) founds itself on such a nice little weave--complex but subdued, never over-powering or overwhelming, and the vocal part is, for me, one of the most powerful and emotional of the GG repertoire.

"TIme to Kill" (8/10) is kind of an early version of the music brought to us by Fripp-Levin-Belew six years later on "Discipline." A maturely constructed and performed song, it does get a bit boring and/or tedious from time to time.

"His Last Voyage" (10/10) is like Steely Dan supporting a monastic choir--so well paced and subtlely constructed. Definitely a band at their most mature, most composed and confident--with nothing left to prove. Mastery has been achieved and here are the just desserts.

"Talybont" (9/10) is a very fun little jaunt through the medieval world--like going to a Renaissance Faire. Well mete, lads!

"Mobile" (7/10) feels older--as if it came from the "Three Friends" or "Octopus" recording period. A little more youthful rock'n'roll oriented, less mature and introspective.

Kerry Minnear's keyboards, Ray Shulman's bass, and John Weathers' drumming have never been better than they are on Free Hand. This one is a masterpiece of one of the most truly masterful bands in rock music history. 5 stars.

Report this review (#459490)
Posted Sunday, June 12, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars After the angry politically-themed Power and the Glory, Gentle Giant changed tack yet again to bring us the thoughtful and profound Free Hand, a meditation on whether there really is such a thing as free will. From the catchy (but still complex) Just the Same to the complex vocal layers of On Reflection (which interweaves its vocal harmonies with some fine vibes from John Weathers) to the tender and poignant His Last Voyage - possibly the most beautiful track the band ever recorded - this is a treasury of brilliant performances from a band who, in their prime, were one of the most consistently excellent groups on the prog scene.
Report this review (#541053)
Posted Monday, October 3, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Funk reached its commercial height in the 70s and musicians working in other genres too adopted funk elements, which lends 70s music, or rather what bands are taken to represent the 70s sound, part of its distinct flavour. Herbie Hancock went funky in the early 70s and it was a pervasive influence in the jazz-rock/fusion scene of the time. But there was not much of funk going on in 70s prog, outside JR/F as already mentioned. It was up to Gentle Giant to deliver a very funky prog rock album and so they did with Free Hand.

In the process of doing so, they achieved the seemingly impossible - making their music more accessible than before and yet upping the ante in terms of complexity. On the one hand, they laid down some of their most infectious grooves on songs like Just The Same. They always had a bit of funk in their music but it was never so prominent in their sound.

The heavy metal of Acquiring The Taste and Octopus is pushed back a bit to allow for this smoother version of classic Gentle Giant. It does make an appearance at the start of Time to Kill in the form of crunchy riffs but they disappear seamlessly to make way for another funky groove.

On the other hand, their contrapuntal wizardry reaches its zenith with On Reflection. Even if you have already heard Knots, you will still be dazzled by the complexity of this composition. It is devoid of the unsettling dissonance of that other Gentle Giant masterpiece I mentioned, but you will have your hands full just keeping pace with layer upon layers of harmony. All neatly resolved and very efficiently too, in trademark Gentle Giant fashion. Amazingly, these are basically combinations of very lucid vocal parts, individually, so that the song is actually not so hard to digest and doesn't feel mindboggling to listen to, not if you have already heard Gentle Giant before at any rate.

An aspect that stands out on comparing Gentle Giant to the more, um, gymnastic technical rock music of today is how economical these compositions are. They are short and sharp and there are hardly any solos of significant length to demonstrate the skills of these wonderful musicians. Instead, the songs are put together tightly and the complexity is more in the way these songs have been conceived. And this time, unlike Octopus, there are some catchy choruses to sing along to.

Alas, the vocals make them less sing-able than they should ordinarily be. The smooth, funky flavour of the album actually takes Gentle Giant's closer to that of Steely Dan than ever before. But not only is Derek Shulman no Donald Fagen, he is honestly not very good. I am not referring to just technical facility here; the very manner in which he renders the melodies is perhaps not the most appropriate choice for these songs. I feel a bit more effort to adapt and emphasise the funk elements in this album would have made it even more appealing.

It doesn't stand out so much to Gentle Giant fans, actually, because Shulman is only doing as Shulman does. But it could potentially be an off putting element for first time listeners. Given that vocals often make or break a band for listeners, I might just have hit upon the very reason why Gentle Giant, with their emphasis on short and somewhat goofy prog rock songs, didn't enjoy the kind of success that Yes or Genesis did.

But I personally am used to Shulman and his singing style is distinct, albeit in a somewhat dubious light, and further marks out Gentle Giant as an unique band. On Free Hand, they are absolutely on fire, so much so that even good tracks like His Last Voyage seem to drag a bit after you have been treated to Time to Kill or Just The Same. Their tightest, smartest statement up to that point and, unfortunately, to date. 5 stars without hesitation.

Report this review (#755191)
Posted Saturday, May 19, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars One of the most accesible GG records, but still a masterpiece. This album has everything that a Gentle Giant album should have. Incomparable melodies, some weirdness and a merge in many styles.

The first track "Just The Same" has a jazz style that I really love and also some weirdness typical of the Giants. Also, a very progressive track.

On Reflection is my favorite track of the album because of the melody and the classical and medieval influences. This track has the best vocal harmonies I ever heard from non-classical music.

The title track is one of GG's grooviest tracks. And I hear this from the incredible bass and keyboard lines to the drum part. It is one of my favorites.

Time To Kill has a killer guitar riff. And by the title of this song, you knew that this was going to be killer. But not as killer as the first three tracks.

His Last Voyage has something that other Gentle Giant tracks dosen't have. It is very dark and heavy but at the same time, it is very beautiful.

Talybont is a great instrumental because of the merge of very mediaval sounds and heavy bass and guitar sounds.

Mobile is the weakest track of the album, but it is very good because of the violin and guitar interplay and the atonal melodies.

In conclusion, this is the best GG record along with Aquiring The Taste and The Power & The Glory.

Report this review (#772319)
Posted Saturday, June 16, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars In the 70s, Gentle Giant deserved the level of recognition that their contemporaries ; Yes, ELP, Jethro Tull, Genesis, King Crimson, Pink Floyd et al....had achieved. Their musicianship and compositional skills were certainly on a par with (or beyond...) these more widely known bands. Possibly their music was slightly too complex to easily achieve a wider fanbase, or maybe their early association with the Vertigo Label meant that insufficient publicity had accompanied their advent. History also suggests that their sixth studio album 'The Power And The Glory' would have reached a respectable position in the UK Album Chart had the album's release been handled competently (Vertigo were no longer to blame, the band were now with WWA). Unfortunately, confusion over the album's release date, with copies spilled onto the market too early in error, meant that effectively the bulk of sales were split between two separate and disparate dates. Had the initial sales impetus maximised around a single date, the resultant charting of the album would have fuelled publicity and given the band the helping hand to nudge them into the major league where they belonged. It is interesting then that the band's seventh studio album, that I review here, 'Free Hand' was so named because it marked their debut with the Chrysalis label and suggested feelings amongst the band that this heralded a new era of freedom for them. 'Free Hand' is possibly the band's most accessible album, if you are new to Gentle Giant start here and follow with 'In A Glass House' and 'The Power And The Glory'. I am choosing to review this album now because as well as being a lifelong fan of the band, I am also very fond of surround sound and the latest re-mastered version of this album comes with a DVD which includes a 4.1 mix adapted from the original quad mixes. The fact that quad mixes were done at all suggests to me that the estimated sales for the album were aligned to the viability of a quadrophonic release. So maybe the band's newly found independence still failed to generate the required publicity to achieve such sales. There was no major UK tour to promote the album either...The freedom from an incompetent and pressurised management environment did ,however, mean that the band produced some of the best music of their career. Whilst my first budget stereo system brought my vinyl to life in the 70s (after suffering a mono radiogram for years !!!), I was fascinated further by the concept of quadrophonic systems. Whilst never having the pleasure of hearing a quad system they were to me an obvious step forward and I was surprised by their demise. The arrival of DVD many years later with its 5.1 sound confirmed that my belief in quadrophonic sound was never misguided but maybe quad was ahead of its time and beyond the reach of the average 70's punter... It is a miracle that the original quad mixes of this album (and of 'Interview') have finally come to light. I can remember when I was working for 'Proclamation' the Gentle Giant magazine back in the 90s, that a fan had written in reminiscing about meeting the band back in the 70s. He had stated that when he met the band they were working on quad mixes for the new album. Quad mixes ???!! I was astounded. Was he mistaken or had quad recordings really been made ? Some sixteen years after reading his letter I am happy to confirm that he was of course correct.....(Their is now also a belief that these quad tapes were discovered in the late 90s and were in fact used for a re-press of the first stereo release of 'Free Hand' on CD by One Way Records. The difference in musical detail of that release now finally seems to be explained). So after all these years, what do these adapted quad mixes sound like on DVD ??? The 4.1 format means that we have no centre channel. More disappointingly for me is the fact that the mixes are only offered in DTS 96/24 or Dolby Digital 48/24, both of these are of course lossy formats. For my review I listened in the DTS format. My surround system is movie- oriented but acceptable for music listening too (Oppo BDP-83 into a Sony STR-DA2400 through Q Acoustics 2000 speakers). With much anticipation I sat down to listen carefully. The opening track 'Just The Same' is a perfect compromise of commercial viability and progressive integrity. There is something very catchy and commercial about this song that the opening finger clicks suggest before the music even starts. In its 4.1 rendition I initially thought the vocals were slightly off placed, but as the song progressed this was not the case. I soon found myself totally immersed in a sea of sound. This is what I call surround sound !! The start of the initially dreamy instrumental section enhanced the surround effect even more and provided an enlightened listening experience for me. On the sleeve notes Ray Shulman states 'It's good to see that we were really quite adventurous with the placements in the sound field'. Yes, the surround mix here provides far more than extra ambience and yet it sounds natural and never artificial. 'On Reflection' follows. Possibly the pinnacle of the band's achievements this song starts off as a fugue but ends up as a variation of a canon !! Whatever the technicalities of this piece, it was made for surround sound !!! It is an understatement to say that the song sounds awesome to me. This song underlines the magnitude of human achievement that Gentle Giant were capable of. It feels like I'm in a cathedral with the band's vocals echoing around me in a bell-like manner. (Given the public's penchant for the vocal dexterity of Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody', some months later - I wonder what similar radio exposure might have done for 'On Reflection' ???!!!) The title track 'Free Hand' is a mixture of rock and more intricate, delicate passages. Again the quad mix totally immerses me in the centre of an incredible soundscape and the song sounds better than ever. 'Time To Kill' follows before we are treated to the rich but mournful melodies of 'His Last Voyage'. The choral passage of this song really comes to life in the quad mix and I can feel the atmosphere of the music more than ever before, it's literally thick like a fog all around me. Gary Green's blues guitar solo comes to life so vividly that involuntarily I launch into air guitar mode.... 'Talybont' provides further revelation....This instrumental is full of medieval influence, the quad mix again brings everything to life. I am in a castle courtyard surrounded by electronic minstrelsy and fair maidens. I am unable to stop myself clapping along to the music, I am drawn in so deeply. This song was a demo for a Robin Hood TV series. If only it had actually been used for a TV series the band might have had that tiny nudge they needed to achieve major recognition. 'Mobile' with its gorgeous Celtic flavours rounds the album off in memorable style. Listening to the whole album in quad for the first time has been a memorable and joyful experience for me. The depth of enjoyment of the music actually bringing a flush to my face exactly as it did when I first heard the album all those years ago. Under forty minutes in duration, the album is brief by today's standards but obviously we are looking at quality rather than quantity here . This CD/DVD set is very nicely packaged with some interesting comments from the band in the booklet. My only bugbear with this release is that the 4.1 mix is not in a lossless format. I'd love to see a blu-ray release with the quad mix available in DTS HD-Master Audio, the music deserves such presentation. Whilst I am thrilled to have the quad mix at all, it can sound slightly compressed and a lossless version would give the music more room to breathe to enhance and open the atmosphere even further. The limitations are all the more apparent if you compare this with Tull's Aqualung on blu-ray. With Aqualung you could actually believe you are in the studio listening to the original master tapes albeit the (retrospective) surround mix is far less immersive... In summary if you are a GG fan and you have a surround sound system, ensure you buy this release, it really is essential...and if you've not heard GG before it's a great place to get to know them, general fans of adventurous rock music and fans of surround sound need look no further.
Report this review (#784450)
Posted Sunday, July 8, 2012 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars 'Free Hand' is manic Gentle Giant compositions from end to end with trademark multi part harmonies and frenetic time sig changes throughout. It begins with glorious melodic mayhem on 'Just The Same' and then launches into the weird Gentle Giantism harmonies that sound like some parody of medievalism 'On Reflection'. The opening section is almost maddening in it's delirious harmonising but it soon breaks into some fabulous melodies with a nice gentle dreaminess that pleases my senses.

The best song is to follow with the title track, that I adore when I hear it on any compilation or the original album. The remaster is crystal clear and even better. The vocals of Derek Shulman are excellent throughout, strong and easy to comprehend. 'Time To Kill' is certainly a highlight with some chaotic signatures and wonderful musicianship. The pleasant chimes and acoustic guitars are a feature of 'His Last Voyage' before the very melancholy vocals echo along the melody line. The wah wah lead break is a great augmentation to the jumpy piano line. My least favourite track on the album is the sea shanty instrumental 'Talybont', but it's like a transition and fully instrumental.

The bonus tracks as with all GG remasters are very good and fill the CD nicely. On 'Free Hand' there is previously unreleased '1976 Intro Tape', just an instrumental filler really, and from the John Peel Sessions 'Just The Same', 'Free Hand' and 'On Reflection', all different versions of these gems and nicely performed. Also we have 'Give It Back (International 7" mix)', a strange reggae riff and quite out of place commercial style for this earlier album though works nicely on 'Interview', and 'I Lost My Head (7" mix)' is a very good song. All tracks are intriguing and worth a shot, though not to return to as often as side one of this release. The album is close to a masterpiece, at least side one of the original would be classed as such, but it kind of meanders along in side two, even sounding outdated, like some hippy trip to tune out to. In any case, this is one of the greatest GG albums and should be heard by every lover of eclectic prog.

Report this review (#842401)
Posted Monday, October 22, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is not my favorite Gentle Giant album. However, it is probably the most accessable album to people who are unfamiliar with the Giant and their music. As in the name of an earlier album, Gentle Giant is an acquired taste. When I was first introduced to them, in 1978, a friend of mine played Octopus. So I went out and bought my own copy. I listened to it on and off for three weeks, then I didn't listen to it again for a few decades.

About ten years ago I saw Free Hand in a cut out CD bin. I was intrigued, as I only had (vague) memories of Octopus from back in the 80s. I picked it up and took it home...and was totally blown away.

From the opening finger snaps of Just the Same to the finale of Mobile, I sat there stunned. Stunned, but with a wide smile on my face. These dudes can play. These dudes can PLAY! The opening slavo of Just the Same, On Reflection, and Free Hand are hard to beat for an opening of ANY album. Just fantastic songs. And the rest just fills it in right after.

So if you are interested in learning about Gentle Giant, start with this album. It's Just the Same, as far as quality, to the earlier Giant albums. Highly recommended - if I could give half stars, then this would be 4 1/2.

Report this review (#901388)
Posted Monday, January 28, 2013 | Review Permalink
1 stars Certain bands and their releases we all feel are over-rated here at Prog Archives, so I'll begin with one of my personal least-enjoyable over-praised albums. Many reviewers extol the combination of complexity and accessibility in progressive music, and I do agree that this requires a peculiar emotional intelligence of its creators. However this album is something of a sell-out - and released by a band that was never really bent on defying popular and stagnant music conventions - regardless of whatever that motto on Acquiring the Taste (another hyped-up record) would lead one to believe.

Just listen to the opening piano riff of Just the Same: so simple and unvarying. Now listen: a catchy passage here and there is nothing to turn one's nose up at; I actually find some of the most infectious music ever written to be progressive rock and the works of the Classical Masters. And there's another related problem that pervades all these tracks. Which is to say that most of the riffs/motifs presented are never re-worked in anyway. Ever hear of melodic variation or recapitulation? Well, you won't hear it on this disc.

First, the piano riff on Just the Same, punctuated by an equally harmonically uninteresting guitar riff. Then we are tormented with a very dated-sounding keyboard wail after the first verses. Trust me; it is bad.

Next, On Reflection - just the whole damn thing. The a cappella introduction is a basic round for the most part, not particularly special. And how many times do we hear that stupid 3-note melody, "All around!" repeated? Seriously, I don't know; I lost count. What about the section with Gary Green's simple acoustic guitar and Kerry Minnear's stereo vocal interchanges? Could these guys be any more repetitious!?!

That brings us to the title track, which is a highlight for some (not me). Annoying and cartoonish bass and piano music interrupts this one every so often, so beware. I honestly do like the jazzy guitar parts that open Free Hand, but they change key only ONCE. *shudders* A certain section of the piece could be very pleasant, but Kerry Minnear chooses to ruin it with cheesy keyboard-imitation strings, as opposed to letting Ray Shulman perform on an actual violin. Maybe this is a good place to start criticizing the lyrics. They are utterly terrible. "It wasn't hard to run, break away from you, break away from you, After all you'd done, what was I to do, what was I to do?" As a matter of fact, the whole album is filled with this drivel. But then again Gentle Giant were never really poetic to begin with.

Time to Kill is just the same: mechanical and cold melodies stagnating in the same keys and arrangements. The lyrical content is pretty empty. Some people think Dog's Life on Octopus is trivial; this song is literally about a guy who has time, takes it, and goes places! Beware there are also "Ooh"s and "Ah"s in the back-up vocals to this one.

His Last Voyage has the distinction of being, for my tastes, the most tolerable track. However, in order for Gentle Giant to achieve this, they had to plagiarize Via Lumiere by Premiata Forneria Marconi. One BIG difference though: the bassline here is much less elaborate. The song then proceeds into more simple acoustic guitar accompaniment.

Talybont is an homage to some village in Wales. I wouldn't know whether this instrumental does the place any justice, but if I lived there, I wouldn't exactly be pleased with this sort of publicity. Rather aimless this one is. If this kind of prog folk is your bag (and I do love prog folk) I would suggest Jethro Tull's Songs from the Wood or Heavy Horses instead.

And finally (Thank the Most High) we arrive at Mobile. This one is also in the prog folk vein. Good acoustic guitar and violin greets us at the beginning. But the track then descends into more repetitive riffery in common time.

Is this progressive? No. Is anything on this album innovative, or noteworthy in the history of rock? No. Is any of this "music" marked by deep emotional character, or likely to so evoke you? No. Should you buy it? No.

Report this review (#937841)
Posted Monday, April 1, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars I recently discovered Gentle Giant from creating a station for them on Pandora. I had heard of them and was curious. At first I wasn't crazy about the singing but I did like the music. After listening to them more, I've grown to enjoy the singing very much. Now it's one of the things that makes them so distinct to me and is part of what I like about them, along with their quirky interesting music. I decided to get "Free Hand" as my first Gentle Giant recording. I like all of the songs on it. Here's a brief description of each.

Just the Same - A great start for the album. The music and Derek Shulman's vocals are bouncy and fun. The middle part of the song turns into an airy atmospheric spacey sound, then picks up into fast spacey notes. Hand claps brings it back to the bouncy beginning again.

On Reflection - Layered acrobatic vocals by the group lead the song. The singing sort of reminds me of Queen at times. It melts into a slower, tender vocal by Kerry Minnear for a while with flute and light keyboard. The vocals go back to the earlier style and then suddenly shifts into a cool keyboard instrumental to close out the song.

Free Hand - The beginning has a busy keyboard riff with a little sound that flits along, then a heavier keyboard sound enters with powerful vocals from Derek. Interesting, perky riffs punctuate. Galloping drums and instruments move the song along. Then repeats the beginning parts with added layers of sounds and different parts to change it up.

Time To Kill - Some strange electronic sounds lead into a heavier rock guitar and drums. Then the singing and keyboard comes in. More vocal layering goes on throughout the song.

His Last Voyage - Slow tumbling bass and light keyboard at the start. Then a dreamy, sad but soothing vocal by Kerry for most of the piece. A screaming guitar note comes in and breaks into a wah solo. Then pounding descending bass or piano comes in later and moves into the sad vocals again. I think this is probably my favorite track on the album because it's so beautiful.

Talybont - An upbeat, medieval piece. It sort of reminds me of music from the old Doctor Who series. "Nyssa's Theme" and "Kassia's Wedding Music" come to mind.

Mobile - This perky song reminds me a bit of Kansas in vocals, violin playing and overall rock sound.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this excellent album. I'm looking forward to getting and exploring more of Gentle Giant's music.

Report this review (#1101654)
Posted Saturday, December 28, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars It's ironic that this album is my favorite GENTLE GIANT album, seeing as it was the most popular in the US due to it's accessibility upon release (and I'm from the US.) That is not why I like this album so much, however.

After listening to all of GENTLE GIANT's albums, I had to pick this and IN A GLASS HOUSE as my two favorites. Seeing as this is GENTLE GIANT and not some other bands I like, I don't care about the heaviness in the music. Instead, I care about composition and it's value. This album has perfect of both.

Instead of having an even mix of softer and harder rock tracks, this album has songs that mix those two sounds. So instead of this sound being split between songs, it is now combined in the composition of the tracks.

'Free Hand' and 'Time To Kill' are jazzy and just awesome to listen to while doing anything. Other songs such as 'Just The Same', 'His Last Voyage', and 'Mobile' all deserve this spot too, but I honestly like the first two the best. 'Talybont' and 'On Reflection' are great, happier tunes.

My only problem that has been recurring throughout my listenings of GENTLE GIANT is that it is hard for them to change from their bouncy, happy feel. This gets degrading after awhile while waiting for some darker change for a little bit of variety. Not lackluster, just slightly annoying sometimes.

I recommend for anyone starting out with GENTLE GIANT to pick this one up right away.

Report this review (#1261823)
Posted Wednesday, August 27, 2014 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
4 stars 'Free Hand' - Gentle Giant (78/100)

Free Hand is Gentle Giant at their most energetic, their catchiest, their jazziest, and- at least since Acquiring the Taste four years and half a career prior- their most playful. Given the increasingly dry and stately route they had taken on In a Glass House and The Power and the Glory, to hear Gentle Giant inject a little soul into their craft feels as refreshing as any of their more objective shifts in style. Barring that, this is very much the sort of album we might have expected by that point from Gentle Giant. Always preferring to say less with more, the rediscovered pop hooks are swept away with the trademark bombast and near-crippling aural complexity. The lean towards hooks and otherwise conventionally satisfying songwriting doesn't always work out on Free Hand, but it's one of the few times in Gentle Giant's proud career where the guys sound like they're operating outside their comfort zone.

Free Hand is typically described in terms of its so-called 'pop sensibilities' relative to the rest of their albums, but any talk of pop goes tandem with the damning implication that a progressive act must have simplified their craft. Gentle Giant would indeed try for a laughable 'commercial' approach a couple of years later (in a sense paving the way for Yes and Genesis, who would try pop with far greater success) the hooks on Free Hand are just another layer to an as-ever complex and indigestible maelstrom of rock, jazz and classical traditions.

I'm not convinced the juxtaposition between the catchy and complex entirely works on Free Hand, but like the best of Gentle Giant's work, there's something to be said alone for the boldness of the undertaking. Take "Just the Same"; the rhythmic bounce and bright melodic focus in the verse could have foreshadowed what the Phil Collins-led Genesis would be doing a decade later, but the superfluous layers of noodling guitars, keys and who-knows-what-else are far more challenging than the hooks are catchy.

In my original review of Free Hand, I noted that the album place a greater weight on conventional songwriting. I don't believe that is true anymore, though I can see why I first had that impression. Gentle Giant's approach to composition is just as sporadic and 'everything but the sink' as ever, but the band's use of melody in that context is much more tactful. "Free Hand" and "Time to Kill" are instrumentally clustered and frantically busy, but Derek Shulman's vocal lines sound as if they genuinely believe they're part of a pop or disco song. Although the hooks do little to endear the music on an emotional level, it's legitimately surprising how infectious they can be, especially given Gentle Giant's feeble track record when it's come to sweet and simple songwriting.

If there's anything that really sets Free Hand apart from its most recent antecedents, it's not so much the melodic writing (it does help, mind you) but the feeling of vivace Gentle Giant have injected into their performance. Whenever I'm listening attentively enough to an album, I'll get a mental visual of the band playing, as though I were there at the time it was recorded. While I did come to love In a Glass House in time, the accompanying image was sombre and sedentary; The Power and the Glory was drearier still- even the liveliest parts sounded like Gentle Giant themselves were emotionally detached. I could never call Free Hand (or any other GG album) an emotionally involving experience by any stretch, but with Free Hand it sounds like they're having a lot of fun playing it, which- while rare- was never a bad thing to hear in progressive rock.

Free Hand would also see Gentle Giant's jazz and Medieval musical influences come full force. While the jazz manifests itself in the band's fusion-style riffing, it's great to hear the latter given greater attention. While some might argue that "Talybont" isn't more than an interlude piece, hearing Gentle Giant throwing caution to the win and immersing themselves in their Medieval influence is surprisingly gratifying. The largely acapella "On Reflection" basks in classical austerity; the overlapping choral arrangement is one of the most impressive things Gentle Giant ever did, for its composition and performance alike. While the hard rock-oriented "Mobile" sadly fits their tradition of less-than-spectacular closing numbers, Free Hand stands among the finer accomplishments of Gentle Giant's career. Akin to their very own Going for the One, Free Hand acknowledges that Gentle Giant couldn't function on pomp and pretentiousness and alone. Music of this cerebral sort always needs some kind of visceral hook to be interesting, and following a spot of dryness in the mid-stage of their career, Gentle Giant managed to partly dispel that issue here. You can hear a shard of that same compelling energy on their following album Interview, but Free Hand stands as the last relatively 'great' album Gentle Giant would make before they started to finally unravel.

Report this review (#1361923)
Posted Wednesday, February 4, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars This was Gentle Giant's first release on the Chrysalis label and it was also an attempt to make their sound a little more accessible. I say a little more accessible, because it was just a very slight compromise and they really didn't lose much of their sophisticated yet very progressive sound. Eclectic prog is the perfect genre for this band because eclectic definitely defines their music. Very odd meters and time signature changes pop up constantly. Yet their sound is very renaissance sounding, folkish, yet complicated with plenty of jazz mixed in. This slight adjustment to their sound ended up being the thing that would bring them to the attention of the American audience they were trying to attract. And they did it without much of a compromise to their sound, other than maybe cutting out much of their classical/modernistic sound, becoming a little less avant garde, yet still keeping things technically difficult. Even hardcore prog fans seem to have a hard time penetrating the accessibility of their sound, but this album did become the most accepted.

This album is excellent, even more complex than the prog folk masters Jethro Tull. It is not easy to appreciate on the first listen because it is so complex and, yes, eclectic. Their folk leanings shine through but never overbearing. Composition and formation of the songs is anything but conventional. The vocals are a little strange, and I find them the hardest thing to get used to, but keep with it and you will come to accept it. As far as the instrumental passages here, you will find yourself wanting to dance a jig at times, but the music never remains with a constant enough beat that you just can't quite seem to get the right beat, and that is how it should be with this music. The only way you can dance to this is in a madman style.

I will not try to break down these complicated songs, they are there for you to listen to and plenty of other reviewers have already done that for you if you are interested. The sad thing is that Gentle Giant, even though they have a huge cult following, never really caught on and received the high regard and awe-struck status that other progressive bands like Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and many other received, but they are very deserving of that status. Their music is definitely complex, the most complex folk-oriented music you will ever hear. They can't be considered folk prog though because it is too complex and also incorporates jazz, electric music, and modernistic styles. Hence, with the many genres incorporated, even with the overall medieval rock sound, there is just so much more than that. I mean, what other band would be able to take the vocal acapella harmonies in "On Reflection" and perform it outside of the studio without a conductor? I doubt there are many that could do that. Sure there are many that could play the difficult passages and odd time signature changes that exist in songs like the popular title song "Free Hand" but they would only be those who were the most talented, and I doubt they would be able to do it without a lot of preparation. Have you ever heard anyone cover a Gentle Giant song off the cuff in concert? I don't think so.

Yes this is great stuff and should be considered a masterpiece of prog and nothing less. Even if you don't like it, you should still own it and try to let it work it's way into your mind. Simply amazing. Essential music for all prog fans.

Report this review (#1383518)
Posted Monday, March 16, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars Review Nş 57

Gentle Giant was a band formed in 1970 by the three brothers Shulman, Phil, Derek and Ray. The group was known for the great complexity and sophistication of their music. The band had diverse musical influences like rock, jazz, classical music, blues and medieval music. They never were a huge commercial success but they managed to achieve a great cult of followers, while they still existed. I always saw similitude between the careers of Gentle Giant and Van Der Graaf Generator. Both wrote some of the best, most complex, original, creative and beautiful musical pages in the history of the progressive rock music. At the same time, and despite they're now being considered two of the best groups and that most contributed to the progressive music history, both had some problems with the record industry and both had also a small base of support fans, thought faithful and unconditional in the supporting of both bands.

'Free Hand' is the seventh studio album of the band and was released in 1975. Strongly influenced by the music of the renaissance and middle Ages, it became as one of the most popular and accessible studio musical releases made by the group. The lyrics on the album reflect the lost love and the damaged relationships between people. With 'Free Hand', Gentle Giant produced one of the most creative and complex recording releases in all the progressive rock musical history. However, despite the complexity of their musical arrangements, their music is very accessible and melodic and their vocal approach was really very revolutionary for those times. 'Free Hand' is unique and unpretentious progressive rock album that couldn't have been delivered by any other band besides Gentle Giant.

'Free Hand' has seven tracks. All the songs were written by Kerry Minnear, Derek and Ray Shulman, except 'His Last Voyage' which was written by Minnear and Ray Shulman. The first track 'Just The Same' is a song with one of the traditional beginnings of some of the Gentle Giant's tracks. The song opens with fingers snapping and curiously ends in the same way. It's a very slow rock song with good keyboard work that has also some jazz influences. This is a great song to open the album. The second track 'On Reflection' starts with one of the most spectaculars Gentle Giant's traditional trademarks, the polyphonic vocal inspired by renaissance and the cappella music. Musically, it's a very interesting track due to the changes between acoustic and electric instruments, but is essentially an acoustic song. It's clearly a song strongly influenced by the troubadour's songs of the medieval era. The third track 'Free Hand' is the title track song. It's a more elaborate and complex song than the two previous tracks. We may say that this is a traditional Gentle Giant's track with some dissonant parts and with constant changes of rhythm and tempo. It's without any doubt one of the best songs on this album. The fourth track 'Time To Kill' is the rocker song on the album and is also a song with other traditional Gentle Giant's overture, this time with a computer game. It's probably the simplest song on the album and it suffers also of some jazz influences. The simplicity of the song and the vocal parts are probably the main reason why this song is the least loved on the album. The fifth track 'His Last Voyage' is the most tranquil piece of music on the album. It's probably one of the most beautiful songs ever created by the band. It has good keyboard and guitar workings with particular emphasis to the way how Minnear sings it, which makes us feel the departure of someone to his last voyage to the afterlife. The sixth track 'Talybont' is another baroque song with the clear influence of the musical era of the middle Ages. It's almost a folkloristic instrumental medieval song very beautiful and agreeable, and seems that was composed for a sound track to a Robin Hood film, which I think never saw the light of the day. Anyway, Gentle Giant decided included it on the album. The seventh track 'Mobile' is a track that combines a nice acoustic guitar, keyboards and violin working, during the open of the track, with a perfect harmony. It's another song with some complexity and where each instrument seems to play free and disconnected of the other, but always with an excellent harmony. This is a song perfectly chosen to close this magnificent musical work.

Conclusion: 'Free Hand' is one of my favourite Gentle Giant's albums and is one of my favourite progressive albums too. 'Free Hand' is the last masterpiece created by the band and is also one of the most accessible of the Gentle Giant's albums. The combination of superb musicianship, dry wit, and creative compositions make of 'Free Hand' an essential piece and an historical recording. All of this proved that the band could write all type of songs that they wanted to do and that could be good, creative, complex and at the same time accessible and melodic. The album has great instrumentals, advanced vocal numbers, good ballads, acoustic and electric parts and exceptionally very well structured songs. Unfortunately, the future came to show us that this wasn't the route that would be taken by them.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

Report this review (#1529061)
Posted Sunday, February 14, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars Their Most Musical Album.

A pioneering band, Gentle Giant often put innovation above music, and some of their albums come across as pretentious as a result. While Free Hand doesn't vary too much from their previous formula, it is clear on this one they decided to prioritize the music. The album is more mature, more thoughtful, more humane, and more musical. While their previous albums were often a very mixed bag, on this album there are no off-putting tracks, and the album contains some of their very best songs. Of course there are the live favourites "Just the Same" and "Free Hand", but this album also contains probably their most successful and musical choral piece (with multiple overlapping choral lines, which is a style they practically invented and which still today is recognizable): "On Reflection". Awesome track. "Time to Kill" and "Talybont" contain similarly-styled instrumental jazz-guitar and medieval-English versions of this same formula, and they work really well here too. The last song ("Mobile") ends the album with a GG classic. This is the GG album that has stood the best test of time for me, even though I agree there are some flashes of brilliance on previous GG albums. I give this album 8.2 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 4 PA stars.

Report this review (#1765694)
Posted Sunday, July 23, 2017 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
5 stars As the early boom of progressive rock waxed and waned in a relatively short period from 1969 to 1975, many bands came and went or transmogrified into ever increasing commercial arenas that sacrificed their earlier ambitions, however through it all GENTLE GIANT continued to crank out albums that continued to hone their prog rocking skills to new heights despite flirting with the more accessible song structures that were slowly simplifying the defining qualities that made prog rock, well so bold and daring. By the time 1975 arrived when they released their seventh album FREE HAND, the two remaining Shulman brothers had steered their creative outfit into prog rock the pinnacle of prog refinement successfully retaining their perfect marriage between brutal prog complexities and pop hook sensibilities.

After more than paying their dues and striking a friendship with Jethro Tull on the extensive touring circuits, this British band scored a contract with Chrysalis Records in the UK but found their most successful charting album on the US Billboard charts (#48). Gone were the long bouts with dissonance and in was a slightly more accessible sound with the most sophisticated of production values mixed in quadrophonic but nevertheless still dressed up with the unmistakable GENTLE GIANT-isms such as their polyphonic instrumental gymnastics, folk laden vocal fugues and heavy modern rock resonating side by side with renaissance anachronisms. However by this time, the band was a fully fueled prog rock machine churning out one addictive tune after another with all the excepted prog soaked outbursts of ambition.

Taking a lighter approach from the more political charged "The Power And The Glory," FREE HAND found the band at their most commercial crossover potential without sacrificing one little bit of all those luscious idiosyncrasies that made the band stand out from the pack. With catchy, even funky riffs as on the opener "Just The Same," GG proved they could adapt their unique time signature frenzies to the most contemporary sounds of the era but in the end composed music that sounds timeless in nature. While steeped in hard rock guitar riffs that connect the band to the burgeoning prog rock scene that was in the process of giving way to less ambitious musical genres, GG found a way to transverse both sides of the fence.

Despite constructing much easier to follow overall song structures, somehow GG exploited every available option to unleash their magic. "On Reflection" comes off as a somewhat catchy little tune but in a short timespan runs the gamut of vocal harmonic fugues in playful interlude with Kerry Minnear's plethora of impressive keyboard runs with plenty of time signature outbursts that should kill any sense of continuity but actually serve to heighten the sense of adventure with an impressive eclectic collection of instruments trading off including the harp, cello, violin, viola, vibraphone, glockenspiel and the list goes on. GG effortlessly exhibits some of the best musicianship prog rock has to offer with their exhaustive fusion of rock, jazz, folk and Baroque classical into sensual yet aggressively angular melodic hooks.

As with any GENTLE GIANT album, you really have to go into it on the band's own terms in order to appreciate FREE HAND. Despite being laced with easily digestible hooks the band still finds the perfect marriage with escapades into the unconventional instrumental and harmonic bombast. While their newfound catchiness was the perfect gateway into the following less sophisticated albums that would find the band fizzle out in irrelevance, FREE HAND is the point where they found all their trademark attributes in the perfect balance and the most recommended starting point to explore the utterly unique musical universe that the band had spent the early 70s constructing. Yet another masterpiece in a long string of outstanding musical gems.

Report this review (#1774945)
Posted Thursday, August 24, 2017 | Review Permalink
4 stars Make it 4 and a half out of five. Free Hand is a lot more inviting to me than the two albums preceding it. "Just the same" kinds of makes me glow all over like the debut & Octopus did -- it has a couple neat hooks. I understand from my counting friends, a highly unusual tempo: 7's against the drummers' 3's.

"On Reflection" starts out like it's going to be geeky, but instead unfolds into this remarkable one complete with almost perfect harmony and very touching charm. Now I'm starting to see why people are so enthralled with this group.

The title track begins pretty mystical, and then dives into a sort of deep but playful groove, for lack of any other way to describe. Melody is catchy.

Things are still looking good on the flip to the other side of the LP. "Time to Kill" does somewhat follow a Giant formula, but has enough fresh ideas, including very rich harmonies galore, one in a low register. Very fluid & rhythmic.

Wow. "His Last Voyage" is a ballad. Giant ballads and slower numbers are to die for; this no exception. I liked the piano/guitar interplay on the solo but think it was a bit misplaced on this celestial ballad. I was glad when the echoey vocal returned.

Usually when people claim that Giant is doing a Renaissance song, they are mistaken. The twelve tone scales found in much Giant were not used in the Renaissance. (Try John Cage. Ugh!) "Talybont" is indeed a genuine Ren. song though, and a ravishing one at that. It is entirely instrumental too. Giant needs to do more of those, being so accomplished on so many instruments. There is an endearing modern section to the song with some unusual tone colors.

"Mobile," the album closer, is pretty indescribable, simple and very complex at the same time. It didn't really strike my fancy, but I get the feeling that there's a lot more there than an initial listen can grasp. On this song the Renaissance acts a backdrop for rock and funk ideas. Well the reason this album doesn't get a five is that my favorite Giant album is the Power and the Glory. That one I think is the absolute apex of Giant's career.

Report this review (#1919674)
Posted Saturday, May 5, 2018 | Review Permalink

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