HNE Recordings [Release date 05.02.21]
Proving that the language of rock’n'roll is universal, the late Ken Hensley’s final album is a collaboration with Russian poet and lyricist, Vladimir Emelin. My Book Of Answers grew out of a chance meeting between the two when they were boarding the Moscow flight out of the EU two years ago.
Hensley is hardly a household name, but in the music world, he’s been steadily accumulating cultural stock since 1970, principally with UK Rock legends, Uriah Heep, but also as a solo artist, and by working with others, including mega selling US rock bands like WASP and Cinderella.
Emelin is a fan. Over the months, Hensley translated his lyrics to English, shaping and forming them into 9 eminently accessible rock songs.
In his last studio recording, Love And Other Mysteries, Hensley set about tracing the fault-lines between loneliness and love. The songs on My Book Of Answers radiate that same emotional fragility. The thoughts of a man who’s been sold a false dream one too many times.
Every frame is exquisitely lit. ‘Silent Scream’ and ‘Cover Girl’, encompass the tragic and the beautiful, the arrangements and production are sleek and clean lined. He builds and layers the arrangements like a studio craftsman, immediately reminding us of this on openers, ‘Lost’ and ‘Right Here’, but not for him the anguished complexity that often translates into clutter.
As with all Hensley’s songs, the narrative is there to tell a story, whether it’s reaching across the gospel choir fringed soundscape of the anthemic prayer, ‘Stand’ or articulating the huge heart and soul spilling out from the edges of the beautifully orchestrated ballad, ‘Suddenly’.
That said, there’s no question he’s got an ear for a memorable tune. The dramatic ‘Cold Sacrifice’ may well be driven by big doomladen chords and bluesy, barbed axework, but it’s the melody that gives it emotional weight.
It’s the same with album closer, ‘Darkest Hour’. It has a spirituality, and an intimacy that’s typical of Hensley’s work, but at the core of it is the melody. And he makes it sound effortless. The mark of a true artist. ****
Review by Brian McGowan
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