Cherry Red Records/HNE [Release date 27.03.20]
Most will know keyboard player/songwriter, Ken Hensley from his ten year (1970-80) stint as a key component of Uriah Heep.
This 5 CD package revisits Hensley’s work much later in his career. It focuses on the years 2012 and 2013, and a two year burst of creativity which saw Hensley release a raft of albums, both as a solo artist and with his band, Live Fire.
“Love And Other Mysteries” is unarguably Hensley’s magnum opus. An enormously rich and intensely personal album. There’s a lesson here: To be one of the great English rock’n'roll voices, you don’t have to sing, you just need to write songs like these.
‘Come To Me’, ‘The Girl In The Purple Dress’ and ‘This Bleeding Heart’ are the standouts. Lush, orchestral pieces of music, displaying a much more descriptive musical style than we have heard from Hensley in the past. Love is clearly the drug, and he uses that emotion to contruct each narrative and build the mood.
He sings a few himself, but otherwise uses handpicked vocalists Glenn Hughes, Roberto Tiranti and others to do the heavy lifting.
And talking of songwriting, “Live Tales” is Hensley interpreting the stuff he wrote for Uriah Heep, in a stripped down, acoustic guitar and piano style. Arguably this is the best of the five discs here – there’s a freshness and a spontaneity to the music that is utterly beguiling.
On key tracks, ‘Free Me’, ‘Wise Man’ ‘Lady In Black’ he manages to draw performances from himself that perhaps experienced studio producers could not. Frequently, he plays with a lot of sensuality. There is something very earthy about ‘Rain’, ‘July Morning’ and others which differentiates them from the band versions.
In its own way, this album is just as personal as “Love & Other Mysteries”, with songs reinvented rather than remade.
In 2013, Hensley put together his own band, Live Fire, initially to perform the material he had originally written for ‘Heep, with Ken (Street Legal) Ingwerson on guitar, Sid (TNT) Ringsby on bass and Eirikur (Artch) Hauksson. And so Discs 3 and 4 bear witness to the band live in concert. This is clearly a first choice group of musicians. You could argue that their live versions of ‘The Curse’, ‘The Last Dance’ and ‘Love Machine’ surpass the originals (maybe not with a ‘Heep fan, right enough), in that they find ways of presenting much of the material in an alternately more flamboyant or pared back manner.
Back in the studio, with Roberto Tiranti now on bass and vocals, Hensley looked to write and record an album much in the tradition of Uriah Heep. It’s 2013 now, revisiting the previous century can look and sound tired. But “Trouble” appears like it was beamed in from the melodic rock genre’s peak years. Full of locomotive rhythms with everything apparently on the move, it sounds new and vibrant. It’s full of vocal harmonies and big bold hooks, with the propulsive ‘Todo Loco’ and the exciting, electrifying, ‘Ready To Die’ and ‘I Don’t Know’ quickening our pulse, reminding us just why we got into this stuff in the first place.
Review by Brian McGowan
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