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Ken Hensley - Free Spirit CD (album) cover


Ken Hensley

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Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Sweet freedom

Having arguably been the key member of Uriah Heep throughout the 1970's, Ken Hensley decided in 1980 that he had gone as far as he could with the band. Internal battles fuelled by drink, drugs and the trappings of success had taken their toll on all the band members, and Hensley was by no means immune to such issues. Given that he had almost single-handedly carried the band in the song writing department for a decade, he was also understandably showing signs of running low on inspiration (Uriah Heep's "Conquest" was poor), while perhaps holding songs back from the band for his own use.

The title of Ken's third solo album is a clear reference to his departure, and his intention to pursue a solo career. "Free spirit" is his most individual effort to date, with Hensley calling for assistance only in the rhythm department. A variety of guests are used there, including current and former Heep bandmates Trevor Boulder and Mark Clarke plus Ian Paice of Deep Purple and Kenny Jones.

In terms of content, "Free spirit" is a natural successor to "Eager to please", offering a clear distinction between Hensley's solo work and his contribution to his now former band. The album opens with its best song, "Inside the mystery". The piece is a fine mix of funk, prog and power ballad written by Hensley's writing partner around the time, Jack Williams. Ken's arrangement and production of the song is superb, bringing out the fine melody well.

"When" is reminiscent of the title track on "Proud words..", with much more of a Uriah Heep feel than most of the material here. The strong beat and falsetto vocals combine with some good old Hammond organ in a great three part composition. The power ballad "No more" reminds me of Lee Kerslake's "Come back to me", although the lyrics here may well be directed towards a work related acquaintance rather than a former lover. Ken adds some appealing lead guitar to another album highlight. "Brown eyed boy" sees Ken going all out for some straight rock and roll, with line such as "So I said what's a pretty girl like you doing in a place like here". Bizarrely, but very effectively, the centre part of the track slows things down for an ah-ah's backed guitar solo rather like that on "The spell".

Overall though, there are a couple too many songs here do which not have the appeal of those on the first two solo albums. Tracks such as "New York", "Woman" and "Do you feel alright" have the taste of someone who is going through the motions without any great effort to challenge themselves.

There is the occasional minor surprise such as "The system", a decidedly fluffy pop song with a simple tune and rather prosaic lyrics. The song should not be taken too seriously, indeed it is good to see Ken having a bit of fun.

Two of the songs, "Telephone" and "New routine" date from 1976. The former is a decidedly average rock song which was probably written with Heep in mind (and may even have been rejected by them). "New routine" is a decent but unremarkable rock song with a Status Quo type rhythm.

The brevity of both the tracks and the album as a whole serve to suggest that Ken's wish to get something out as quickly as possible after leaving Uriah Heep may have clouded his judgement in terms of quality control. There are enough good songs on "Free spirit" to make it most definitely worthy of investigation. It seems to me though that some of these songs could have been developed more fully, while others would probably have been overlooked had time not been a factor.

Incidentally, there was a track called "Free spirit" which was recorded for the album but omitted. It can be heard on the "From time to time" compilation.

Report this review (#200160)
Posted Thursday, January 22, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars After having left ''Uriah Heep'', Ken released his third solo album five years after its predecessor. This means that it saw the light in '81, and from the first notes of the opening number ''Inside The Mystery'' one can clearly identify that Ken fully embraced the eighties.

But this is not a good news, I'm afraid. These disco and synthetic sounds are quite difficult to bear. Same applies to ''The System'' but this one is even worse: absolutely no feeling and those beats and truly awful. Fortunately, it is a very short song (but most will be on this album).

The first notes from ''When'' seemed to indicate a good old Heep track, but it quickly evolve into the same sort of pop and little interesting music. Still, it can be considered as a highlight from this ''Free Spirit''.

But this album doesn't feature many. The very good guitar solo from ''No More'' reminds me of ''While My Guitar Gently Weeps'' and is a very pleasant moment indeed (but I'm talking only of a portion of a song?).

The rocking ''Brown Eyed Boy'' is another decent track. Ian Paice (Purple) is behind the drum kit and is doing his job with great skills. This song is also more elaborate and its theme change right in the middle is damned pleasant. Again, the guitar work is superb.

This is not a bad album, but good songs are not many. On the contrary, when ''Do You Feel Alright'' starts, there is only one question that comes to my mind: when will it stop? Fortunately, the answer is in less than three minutes. Press next.

I prefer Ken's music while he sticks to the rocking beat (''Telephone'') even if this straight forward rock song is nothing from the other world. In all, I would say that Ken offered an average album. One might think that he will quickly rebound with some better material, but unfortunately the fans will have to wait an enomous amount of years before the release of new material (almost twenty years!).

Two stars.

Report this review (#222028)
Posted Saturday, June 20, 2009 | Review Permalink

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