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Gentle Giant - Free Hand CD (album) cover


Gentle Giant


Eclectic Prog

4.28 | 1437 ratings

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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!

40footwolf | 4/5 |


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