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Ken Hensley - Proud Words on a Dusty Shelf CD (album) cover


Ken Hensley


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3.54 | 54 ratings

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Easy Livin
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Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars "It was then I took to thinking, and my hands took to writing, and my dreams came in answer to the call"

By 1972, Uriah Heep were enjoying the most successful period in their entire career. "Demons and Wizards" and "The Magician's birthday" had both brought the band to the attention of a vast audience, and their solid fanbase was desperately seeking new material by them. The following year, Uriah Heep released one of the finest live albums ever made, further cementing the respect they were garnering the world over.

Keyboard player, second guitarist and second vocalist Ken Hensley was a major influence on this success, writing virtually all the material on their most recent albums. Such was the prolific nature of Hensley's writing though, that he found he had a growing collection of songs which were gathering dust. Some of these songs had been rejected by Uriah Heep while others Ken himself felt would not be suitable, and were thus not offered to the band. Demo versions recorded by the band of some of Hensley's songs which did not make it onto band albums (such as the title track of this album) have subsequently appeared as bonus tracks on Heep albums from the period.

By and large, this is a true solo album by Hensley, the only additional contributors being the Uriah Heep powerhouse of Gary Thain and Lee Kerslake on base and drums respectively, plus bass on some tracks by Dave Paul. Hensley took about a year to record the album, working on it when he had the opportunity during gaps in the hectic touring and recording schedule of Heep.

Each side of the LP opens with a wonderful piece of heavy prog. "When evening comes" has a lead guitar motif similar to that on the Beatles "She's so heavy", Hensley immediately demonstrating that while his singing talents did not quite match those of David Byron, he was not far behind. "Fortune", which opens side two swims on organ like the soon to come "Sweet freedom"; the song lyrically sounds like an outtake from "Demons and wizards" with autobiographical overtones. These two songs alone are to all intents and purposes Uriah Heep masterpieces.

My personal favourite song from any Hensley solo album is "From time to time", a haunting synthesiser fuelled piece with a superb instrumental conclusion. Structurally, the song reminds me of Genesis "Entangled", the atmosphere being similarly effective. "King without a throne" is really the only prosaic number on the album, this mid-paced blues based number being adequate but unexciting.

"Rain" is something of an exception on the album, as it is the only song to also appear on a Uriah Heep album. When the band originally recorded the song, it was a simple vocals (Byron) and piano (Hensley) ballad. Hensley told the band he wanted to make the final verse, which is a repeat of the penultimate verse, a much louder, organ backed crescendo. The band disagreed, and democracy dictated that the song remain a gentle ballad. Here, Hensley demonstrates how he wanted the song to be arranged, the final verse being suitably majestic. In reality, both versions bring out the beauty of what is a fine composition, which only goes to prove that both were right!

The title track might have made a decent Uriah Heep single, the positive lyrics being complemented by a sing-a-long toe-tapping melody. The song probably lacks a strong enough hook, but there's no doubt it is good fun.

Another personal favourite is "Black-hearted lady", where Hensley gives an impressive vocal performance. It would probably have been a ballad too many for Heep, but it makes for a superb addition to this album. If one was being cynical, it could be suggested that the weaker tracks have been placed in the middle of each side, and "Go down", while better than "The king.." on side one, is similarly OK but no more.

The epic "Cold autumn Sunday" takes a basic three verses and bridge and transforms them into a compelling 5 minute piece of descriptive art. Here again, Ken shows the versatility of his voice, with a performance of startling emotion and beauty. The album closes with a delightful ballad "The last time", which once again is of a quality which would grace any Uriah Heep album.

At the time of this album's release, both Uriah Heep and Ken Hensley could do no wrong. "Proud words on a dusty shelf" is simultaneously a lost Uriah Heep album and a solo statement by Ken Hensley which offers something a bit different yet totally familiar. The album therefore slots neatly into the band's catalogue at the time. Recommended.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |


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