Hensley, Ken & Free Spirit - Running Blind

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Record Heaven
Catalog Number: RHCD62
Format: CD
Total Time: 53:58:00

I'll admit that I am not a Uriah Heep fan of old, though it's not from disinterest, but just that other than on the radio, they didn't come into my listening world. Thus, I have not been a long time Ken Hensley fan either, and in fact, had to be told who he was when I reviewed DC Cooper's album a few years ago, as Cooper recorded a cover of "Easy Living." All of which is to say that all I have to go on is what is here.

Here is Running Blind, the newest solo release from ex-Uriah Heep vocalist/keyboardist Ken Hensley, excepting the more recently released A Glimpse Of Glory which was recorded earlier, in 1999 but unreleased till 2002. Running Blind begins with a fantastic, classical keyboard piece in the form of "Overture: 'La Tristeza Secreta De Un Corazon Gitano' (Pt. 1)," which leads into the rocking instrumental keyboard, drums, guitar piece "Prelude: A Minor Life." What follows is mostly rocking, AOR-rock with a couple of ballads.

This is a comfortable album; Hensley doesn't throw any musical curves, after that opening piece. It's the anomaly. Each piece is so instantly accessible that you feel you know the album even on the first listen. Not that it sounds like re-writes of other people's music (though there are a few instances where other pieces come to mind), but you don't have to learn a new "language" to understand what Hensley's getting at. I find that Hensley often sounds like John Wetton, and yet there is a different quality to his voice such that in trying to say exactly how, I see that's not as easy as that to pin it down. Certainly his style is like Wetton's, and they certainly trade in the same kind music. In fact, Wetton, who was a member of Uriah Heep with Hensley in 1975-1976, guests on bass on "You've Got It (The American Dream)" and "Final Solution."

But, hoo-ya, baby! Take Molly Hatchet's "Flirtin' With Disaster," -- the heavy, distorted guitars creating a buzzsaw of sound) -- the Doobie Brothers' "Rockin' Down The Highway", and pinch of the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" (mainly in the repeated refrain of the title) and you get the rollicking "Tell Me." And, oh baby, that lead guitar solo from Dave Kilminster -- its southern rock at his smokin' best! And that's the last track (one of 4 bonus tracks). Yes, I know, Hensley's a Brit.

Before that, there are 13 other tracks, beginning with "Out Of My Control," which has radio hit written all over it - memorable chorus, tap-along rhythms, solid guitar playing ... oh, I should say that that's Hensley, too, on half of the album's 14 tracks (though Dave Kilminster plays the guitar solos). As he's been quoted as saying, folks forget he started on guitar before switching to keyboards. Hensley plays keyboards on most of the tracks as well. The rest of the band is Mike Johnson, Steve Christy and Dave Wagstaffe (though mostly Johnson) on drums; and David Karns and Andy Pyle (mostly Karns) on bass. The band is called Free Spirit and the track "Free Spirit" is either inspired by or inspired the band's name (probably the song then the band) It's a driving rocker that like "Out Of My Control" is perfect for radio... evoking images of open convertibles and the open road. Kilminster's guitar is big and loose, throaty... well, free.

There is a certain part to "The Final Solution" that reminds me of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom Of The Opera." That part is a deep-hued tone, in descending do do do dos from both keys and guitar... it's a dark, sinister tone, and this song is not an upbeat, sunny track either - a rocky romance drawn in the terms of war. But one can also read it as a commentary on our species itself, that we are capable of both love and war, and certain kinds of love (agape, for example) can lead to war.

"Finney's Tale" is an acoustic-based, folkish tune about a "regular joe" finding fame an uncomfortable suit to wear. "I Close My Eyes" is an acoustic ballad that so rooted in the 70s it's strange. I thought of, in one stream, Air Supply, Bread, and Jim Croce -- that is, one part "All Out Love," one part "If," and one part "I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song," all backed by strings (violins, viola, and cello). But it's also reminiscent of many a mellow track that came out of that decade. Croce comes to mind again with "A Little Piece Of Me (Julia's Song)" is sentimental without being saccharine. I have to say that a mid-70s Billy Joel also comes to mind -- that is around the time of The Stranger.

Bonus tracks comprise the latter four tracks, the first being the already mentioned "Free Spirit." What follows is the heavy, muscular rocker "Movin' In," which is full of assured attitude. The country-hard rocker "Let Me Be Me," taking the hard rock drive, the easy-goingness of Chris Isaak (or Roy Orbison) or even mid-80s rock, it has just a slight dance beat. And yet there are also hints at the metal bands (not the hair/glam bands) of the time. "I Don't Wanna Wait" sounds for the first few moments like REM's "Losing My Religion" (so much so that when I first heard it, not having looked at the title, I thought it was). Jangling acoustic guitars start us off, as in "Losing...," but then Hensley's vocals come in and, although laid-back a little bit, it sounds also a lot like "Let Me Be Me." I think a bit of The Moody Blues, too. And then comes "Tell Me."

Well, I'll tell you that is a terrific album... maybe not perfect, but very good. Highly recommended.

Overture: "La Tristeza Secreta De UnCorazon Gitano" (Pt. 1) (2:29) / Prelude: A Minor Life (2:54) / Out Of Control (5:01) / You've Got It (The American Dream) (3:30) / The Final Solution (3:35) / It's Up To You* (5:04) / Finney's Tale (3:01) / I Close My Eyes (4:53) / A Little Piece Of Me (Julia's Song) (3:09) / Free Spirit* (3:41) / Movin' In* (4:03) / Let Me Be Me (2:50) / I Don't Wanna Wait* (5:17) / Tell Me (4:24)

* Bonus Tracks

Ken Hensley - acoustic and electric guitar, keyboards, dobro, vocals
Mike Johnson - drums
Steve Christy - drums (3, 4, 14)
Dave Wagstaffe - drums (13)
David Karns - bass
Andy Pyle - bass (10, 13, 14) John Wetton - bass (3, 4)
Dave Kilminster - acoustic and electric guitars
String Arrangements - Steve Schenkel
Rebecca Boyer, Amy Ohsira, Lorraine Glass-Harris - first violins
Julie Leonhardt, John McGrosso, Nicolas Bica - second violins
Arthur Dibble, Lynn Hague - viola
Beverly Field - cello

(solo only)
Proud Words On A Dusty Shelf (1973)
Eager To Please (1975)
Free Spirit (1980)
The Best Of Ken Hensley (1990)
From Time To Time (1994)
A Glimpse Of Glory (1999)
Ken Hensley Anthology (2000)
Running Blind (2001)

More Than Conquerors w/John Wetton (DVD) (2002)

Genre: Rock

Origin UK

Added: August 1st 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.ken-hensley.com
Hits: 682
Language: english


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