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Ken HENSLEY discography

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Proud Words On A Dusty Shelf
Eager To Please
Free Spirit
From Time To Time
A Glimpse Of Glory
Running Blind
The Last Dance
Blood On The Highway
Love & Other Mysteries

Love & Other Mysteries
Esoteric Antenna 2012

With more voodoo than wide-eyed wonder in the cover doll, perhaps, it's time, as this scribe once suggested to him, Ken Hensley should start writing songs for other people - or stop touring ex-USSR, a land of ghastly pop. Still reeling from the aural autobiography of "Blood On The Highway" five years on, with "Love & Other Mysteries" the veteran's entering twilight zone where his trademark sounds are laid on the altar of simplicity. Thus, saving grace of "(Please) Tell Me Where", delivered by Sarah Rope, comes only with creeping Hammond and slide guitar. And perhaps, Hensley should not worry about his voice: for all its current limitations, only Ken himself is able to truly inhabit these songs like he does, softly, in "Eyes (The Girl In The Purple Dress)". Glenn Hughes and Santra Salkova may bring sterling emotions to the typically Russian "Romance" but for the most part stellar vocalists fail to convey the feelings inherent to this author's work.

The slide-oiled lift of "Come To Me" is classic Hensley, though - when in romantic mood, at the piano and organ, like here and in "(This) Bleeding Heart", Ken drives his MOR message home. Conversely, Roberto Titanti's honeyed pipes render "Respiro Tu Amor" quite superficial, and the strings-drenched "Little Guy" and "No Matter", his soulful duets with Irene Fornaciari, are too operettic for its own contextual good. But if in "This House" it's the instrumental wrapping, rather than singing, that holds melodic focus, the acoustic vivacity makes countrified "Walk Away" an irresistible offer. Meaning the less pretentiously Ken seeks out his mysteries, the grander his love paeans rise.

Blood On The Highway
M.A.T. Music 2007

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If the album's title looks like a cross between "Blood On The Tracks" and "Highway To Hell", the similarity was unintended on its author's part, but that's how it was for Ken Hensley in real life which holds both bitter feelings and sweet memories and makes for an interesting story. The tale has been told in Hensley's autobiography, "When Too Many Dreams Come True", that gave the subtitle to this, its audio companion piece. But, unlike the book, the record isn't a solo project as it features guest singers with Ken in the driver's seat casting the glance in the rear view mirror while looking forward. And there is a mirror in the package where two Hensleys, from URIAH HEEP and from today, face each other; but even though it's an obvious reference to "Look At Yourself", that's an invitation to delve into Ken's reflection rather than a call to face your own demons.

The demons that Hensley has been fiighting until recently are all here, in the songs that spin his tale from the days of youngster aspirations via fame and drugs to the peace of mind which birthed this album that houses pieces both new and previously released yet given a bit of a different slant now. All of these are typical Ken, and while there are different voices employed, one must remember that back in the old days Hensley wrote not for himself but for David Byron and John Lawton. The latter makes his unimpressive appearance on the "Highway", in "It Won't Last", but it's Jorn Lande who sings most of the parts, and those who wondered how David Coverdale could have sounded in URIAH HEEP had he been accepted into the fold have the answer.

Lande's good, he has enough soul to deliver the grand pop rock of "(This Is) Just The Beginning" over Hensley's trademark Hammond, slide guitar and vocal harmonies and belt out "(Okay) This House Is Down"; still, it's Ken's own unpretentious voice that carries the real feelings, be it the sad rumination of "I Did It All" or rock 'n' roll of diary-like "We're On Our Way" hiding an organ quote from "July Morning" and a "Free Me" snippet. There's a lot of little things such as these for a Heepster to find and savor: a full circle, then. Not all of the choices are spot on, though, and in his melismatic approach Glenn Hughes, strong in the emotional "What You Gonna Do", completely loses the strings-swung drama of "The Last Dance" that's very clear in the writer's own version on the album of the same name. Of the old songs "Think Twice" and "You've Got It" received a nice upgrade, the former sung now from the female perspective by Eve Gallagher. Yet there are many more sides to this opus which reveal themselves with every next spin, and that's what makes the album an engrossing, if a little patchy, work.

The Last Dance
Sony 2003

Quite a strange concoction, but "The Last Dance" follows "Running Blind" in the same way that "Eager To Please" followed "Proud Words", the main surprise of this new record lying in the fact it's a guitar-based album from an artist famous for his keyboard skills. The opener "Crying" rams it home from the get-go with its country slide lining and waving buzz out of which the typical Hensley emerges, melodically and lyrics-wise, only in the second part of the song that's, in fact, three songs in one. Like in the good ol' days, that is, yet there's a quiet flow this time around, be its heavy, predatory-paced "Letting Go" where the Hammond bobs up or the incredible title piece, another composite hitting hard on the philosophical and emotional levels and begs for getting deeper in the heart of it. It takes time for the record to grow - a good sign.

As for immediacy, "Second Chance" holds enough of it for both a casual listener who likes a good ballad and a HEEP fan, as the song's banality is more than made up for with its emotional spaciousness, whereas "Who Knows" is saved by its acoustic simplicity. Elsewhere, "The Voice Of Love" comes on more complicated, if a bit too pathetic. Most of the tracks, though, are easy-going and can become the staples on the American radio, especially adoescently rocking "Give Me A Reason" and "Dancing". More tasty feels "Know Who You Are", which glides on George Harrison-styled licks over acoustic textures, spiced up with an Javier De Marco's flamenco solo, yet Jesus-praising "Did You Know" falls out of the context. But then again, fantastic new version of perennial "Lady In Black" - techno-Cajun, anyone? - gives the last dance a very peculiar turn.

Running Blind
EMI 2001

With its predecessor not a real contender for a comeback album and not as much a statement of intentions, "Running Blind" signalled Hensley's second coming in style - even visually: the cover picture is by Fin Costello who did the same job for Ken's solo debut. Hensley who never pretended to be a great piano player eases off his arrival with a pseudo-classical "La Tristeza De Un Corazon Gitano" to set the mood before channelling the theme into the trademark Hammond figure of "A Minor Life", which is quite significant for all the reconnection between the artist's past and the future; called respectively "overture" and "prelude", these pieces mean one thing - a new beginning. Then, it's a cozy ride, where "Out Of My Control" resides with the best guitar-driven pop songs not only of Hensey's canon, the band doing a fantastic job. Dave Kilminster's six-string work shines throughout the album and reaches its peak with a fresh, acoustically-laced rendition of "I Don't Wanna Wait", first dusted off for "From Time To Time" archive collection and now gracefully rehashed. Still, on the "Tell Me" boogie, the young slinger steps back before Ken's own masterclass in handling the axe - so much for rock 'n' roll here.

The territory covered is familiar both thematically - "Free Spirit", "It's Up To You" and "Movin' In" receive here a new lease of life here - and melodically. Strangely, there's a strong influence of John Wetton's in "The Final Solution" and "You've Got It", although Hensley's former colleague is credited for providing the bottom end on the two cuts. That's stylistically deep, so the country slant of "Finney's Tale" make the matters lighter - or, with its tentative tune attempts to, while a gentle, string-laden "I Close My Eyes" does the trick nicely. "A Little Piece Of Me" is the third 'unplugged' track in a row, rather strangely placed in the record's center. Odd sequencing seems to be focusing on the feelings in the heart of it, not the outer glitter, "Let Me Be Me" summing it up verbally. No reason to ask: Ken Hensley still is himself, and running blind he knows his way all too well.

A Glimpse Of Glory
H. I. S. Records 1999

Not so much a comeback album the fans had been waiting for for 17 years, this isn't a letdown either, the title pointing to the record's musical side as its lyrical. A born-again Christian, Hensley set to write songs about Lord and was joined in his attempt by St. Louis, Ken's American hometown, band VISIBLE FAITH, which brought forth some strange fruits: one piece without a trace of an artist whose name's on the cover, and two featuring the trademark Hammond B3. The rest, still, see Hensley doing his thing, keyboards and guitar measured well to not lurch to some particular style but to keep a mood, while the subject matter of the songs is mainly love, sexual and celestial.

With eternal values in the heart of the album, the bookend tracks are too exuberant to fully register with a listener, opening "It's Up To You" and, especially, "The Joy Of Loving Jesus" for a close, their ebullience not matched by the melody. The latter's religious content doesn't matter here, as suggests preceding "The Return", perhaps the starkest and darkest ballad Ken's ever written, yet there's an immense depth to it. The similar wisdom permeats "Moving In", a finger-popping re-make of "In For The Kill" Hensley composed while with BLACKFOOT, and it's as near to the URIAH HEEP canon as it can get.

Despite "Believe In Me" harmonic likeness - deliberate? - to "Wise Man", knack for an emotional tune is retained to kick those who subscribed the veteran's long silence to some writer's block: if mid-tempo "One Tender Moment" humbly begs for string arrangement, poignant "The Cost Of Loving" lies with Hensley's best ballads, leaving inspired "Think Twice" far behind. As a peculiar stand-out track appears "Get A Line", countrified and in its guitar lining very redolent of George Harrison. Not bad, yet not as glorious as it may have been - true to the title though.

From Time To Time
Viceroy Music 1994

Titled under the song off "Proud Words", an album as such it isn't, rather a retrospective of largely unreleased previously material of a quality that easily makes Ken Hensley stand out as one of the greatest tunesmiths of all time. Before him, only THE BEATLES could allow themselves a luxurious hubris of letting such gems gather dust somewhere deep in the vaults. Fortunately, the archives had been raided and treasures came unearthed for all to enjoy.

"From Time To Time" is a fitting title, as Ken seemed to be writing exactly that way - if one's ready to forget Hensley was an unstoppable conveyer providing songs for URIAH HEEP and only occasionally letting out the steam in his solo projects. There wasn't a line drawn between the band's and a solo activity. For one, "Rain" made it to both "The Magician's Birthday" and Ken's debut album, and here we have two original demos, "Take Care" and "Does Anything Matter", which eventually ended up on 1976's "Hign And Mighty" as, consequently, "Footprints In The Snow" and "Woman Of The World". Here, the group method is obvious: while lyrics changed very slightly, their connotations got intensified ("footprints" replacing "footsteps" point to result, not to a process, and "social diseases" gives more panoramic and ironic view to an issue than "people she teases"), and arrangements turned the songs drastically different. Monotone drift acoustic guitar on organ buzz of "Take Care" became dramatic and vocal polyphony applied to a chorus brush its angular melody off. As for "Does Anything Matter", on its way to the album, the song lost impressive piano lead that linked it to "Sgt. Pepper" (look for the references to "Fool On The Hill" or "Fixing A Hole") but gained a striding pace missing from the demo. From the same period comes "The Name Of The Game" featuring Simon Kirke, Mick Ralphs and Boz Burrell - that is, BAD COMPANY sans Paul Rodgers. Planned for inclusion on "Free Spirit", the song was recorded in 1976 during "High And Mighty" sessions, and Ken's, tight and disciplined, version (vocals re-recorded in 1994) feels much more expressive.

Still, these are not the earliest recordings on offer, in 1971 at Luxembourg Studios Hensley embarked on sessions with two FREE members, drummer Simon Kirke and the great late Paul Kossoff, whose smooth guitar is a main treat in four demos presented here. It's guitar part that makes "Cold Autumn Sunday" so poignant and mellow, compared to the "Proud Words" version, although "Black Hearted Lady" doesn't differs that much. Then, perhaps, "Longer Shadows" became ripe when it appeared on "Eager To Please" benefitting from synthesizer thread and bass groove yet lost was the intimacy - note "live" instead of "love" in the last line - and innocence underscored with thoughtful drum parts and vocal attitude. The champion of the sessions was, undoubtedly, "If I Had The Time", glorious in its simple sincerity and boasting one of the best solos from Koss, close to that of "Trouble On Double Time". (And is it Simon, going "and I want to" deep in the mix after "sun fall into sea" line?)

The last song here to have appeared before in any form is "Who Will Sing For You", a B-side to "In The Morning", a single off "Eager To Please. A real rarity, it had all the rights to pop up here, beautifully at odds melodically to the lyrics, catchy, heady and thus leading directly to "Free Spirit", both album and the track left off it. Finally, the song, with the rhytm section of Kenny Jones and Trevor Bolder, emerges here - and what an impact it does! Simple rocking guitars and a slice of organ, fat bass and prominent cymbals on chorus, "Free Spirit" has an optimistic edge, words "Now my time has come and I'm dealing with here and now" summarising the attitude - the mood of Ken's revival resulted in the "Running Blind" version of the song. That should be said, every track recorded during those sessions is arguably best than any of those released. Another one, committed to tape in 1980, is "Love At First Sight", a rollicking tune, a full contrast in lyrical terms to "The Name Of The Game", it featurs acoustic guitars so reeking of "Lady In Black" though effectively adorned and underpinned with Denny Ball's bass.

If these two tracks were deliberately done for "Free Spirit", there are some dated 1979. Ian Paice's drums make for a heartbeat of "Inspiration", a perfect showcase of Hensley's organ and slide playing, while his voice sounds rather raw, yet it proves curious to compare the song's main drift to the second half of "When" from "Spirit" - a twist in the tale, ain't it? But the most sublime moment comes with two gorgeous ballads, "You" and "Maybe You Can Tell Me", delicately orchestrated and boasting old friend B.J. Cole's pedal steel and Clare Torry's soaring voice, which flew to the stars in the PINK FLOYD's "Great Gig In The Sky". Here, going along double-tracked Ken's vocals create the gospel-like spiritual feel, as if predicting what would appear on "A Glimpse Of Glory" ("predicted some event from afar", like "You" goes). Waltzing "Maybe You Can Tell Me" a new take on "Your Turn To Remember" flow, both Beatle-ish tracks are kept tight by backbeat from Harrison and Clapton associate Henry Spinetti. And here it is, the third chapter in a trilogy that started off "Rain" and "The Easy Road, majestic "Guilty", sung clearly and deeply against the backdrop of Linton Naiff's piano and Jack Nitzsche-shaped strings.

Partly filling an almost 25-year gap of solo silence, Hensley proudly shows he had something on his hands even before joining BLACKFOOT. Having relocating to the US, in 1982 Ken held a demo session two fruits of which are "I Don't Wanna Wait" and "There Comes A Time". Former a typical '80s tune sprinkled with acoustic strum yet very uplifting and bearing an immediately memorable refrain, which makes it stand out, and a message ever-relevant, a reason for the song to be re-did for "Running Blind", while latter's a gentle Pat Leonard's piano-led melody embellished with sax and oboe. Two songs come filled with the same "crossroads" philosophy. No more "from time to time", time came for Ken Hensley to get out of shadows. An exit of amazing grace.

Free Spirit
Bronze Records 1980

Ken released his third album soon after he parted company with HEEP and for the first time in many years found himself completely on his own. With no band anymore to embellish his ideas, that's perhaps the reason why "Free Spirit" feels so underbaked. Whatever high quality they may boast, the songs sound like being plain demos - did Hensley want to prove something to his former colleagues? Putting this collection out in a hurry, he even had chopped off the title track alluring enough to replace any uptempo song on the album yet it debuted only on "From Time To Time" retrospective and was re-recorded lately for "Running Blind". One of the most rockiest numbers went AWOL.

What's left strikes the most in terms of style. Ken's tunes often had a pop edge but elaborate band arrangements gave them another scope; this time around it was melodies scantily clad. "The System" exemplifies new approach beautifully - moreover, it precedes dance trends of the '80s winning over them with its simplicity and sincerity. Past disco times, for "Inside The Mystery" Hensley took a Stevie Wonder mask on: funky bass groove sets in for synthesizer to gurgle - a contrast to unassuming vocals and a fluid guitar thread that, unfortunately, doesn't fully resolve in the final solo. And then the bridge, acoustic guitars and percussion of which remind of "Firefly", though it's bizarrely optimistic - a proof of the fact Ken took the situation he appeared in as a new lease of life. Relocating to America, Ken, keeping on the dance track, rocks a boat with "New York", a melody impossible to resist while close listening reveals its relation to "Conquest". Not the only song you can draw a line from to a certain URIAH album, there is "Do You Feel Alright" transparently misty like fallen out of "Fallen Angel" with nervous beat, familiar keyboards line and swirling refrain fit between "Whad' Ya Say" and "I'm Alive". As of "New Routine", the boogie ditty was recorded in 1976 and betrays that in the same bravura, which shaped "Can't Keep A Good Band Down". Change a "band" for a "man", and here's the secret of the dance.

"When" holds a new hope too, but it's very raw, up to primitive drums part and a chorus at odds with a main course - three melodies stitched together and not one developed properly. Jaunty "Telephone", at the same time, is given a full-blown rock'n'roll swagger and THE BEACH BOYS-like chorus treatment. Sharp as a knife - listen to the door slam before a phone starts ringing in the end. Similarly ring Chuck Berry-ish licks of "Brown Eyed Boy" - still, an echo to "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" has another, bluesy, side to it making up the middle part. To explore this depth, Ken brings forth two of his best ballads, "Woman" eerily striking a chord with Lennon's song of the same name, recorded the same year, and "No More", the only piano-led gentle piece drawing on desperation - a fear of falling, a downside to all the bravado. There's a real genius in encompassing the emotion in its full, here lies a freedom of the spirit.

Eager To Please
Bronze Records 1975

If material of "Proud Words", Ken's first album to his name, would be no strange to the lot he was writing for HEEP at the time, all got changed for the sophomore effort, and eagerness "to devour the waist of life" turned somehow to "eagerness to please". As for correlation with the band's doings, there is B.J. Cole on pedal steel, who played that year on "Why Did You Go", and all the bass duties are fulfilled by the shortest-serving HEEP member Mark Clarke. Anyway, "Eager To Please" is a direct follow-up to its predecessor, bluesy slide shuffle of the title track hiding a melody first introduced in "The Last Time", which closed the previous album. The lightness is gone though, the drift feels murky until it breaks down into fast boogie underscored by piano - with no catchiness in sight. Clark submitted two tunes of his to Hensley, "Stargazer" being the first and the foremost surprising in its funky rhythm and rich brass-tinctured textures, as if born at Motown: perhaps, the song's not as compelling as similarly cooked "In The Morning" but beautifully weird. Cole leads into outwordly "Secret", a vibrant flow of which comes close to HEEP drift balancing on verge of prog rock to take in some C&W before the end. Pleasing anyone, then, or was Ken trying to find a new path to trod?

If so, fragile strings-drenched "Through The Eyes Of A Child", whatever sublime and wonderful, is nothing more than a re-write of "The Easy Road", and the line going, "can't find the book anymore" shows a division between two Hensley's albums - the first had a book on its cover. It's a dramatic turn indeed, the feeling poured out in "Part Three" acoustic tremble and universal desperation. Lighter direction takes "The House On The Hill", sung softly to paint a tired happiness, a sign of the situation not right. So when organ, piano and guitar fly along for "Winter Or Summer" intensity, it's not that jaunty as it may seem reflecting on a couple of "Sweet Freedom" songs on the coda. The less shocking then proves "Take And Take" beginning, which is a mirror of "If I Had The Time" and feels almost equally tragic.

Melancholic "Longer Shadows" fits well here yet, in autumn garb, betrays its birth at the time of "Proud Words" songs picking up where "Go Down" left off. Large in scope and approaching Lennon's appeal in its "love, love, love" cry, "How Shall I Know", adorned with flute and orchestra, follows the line, but there's no real deep emotion in it. You can't be pleasing everyone, that's the thing.

Proud Words On A Dusty Shelf
Bronze Records 1973

Hardly a coincidence that Ken Hensley came with a debut album in 1973. His creative peak, that was the time when URIAH HEEP reached their pinnacle, having released in 1972 fantastic double-shot of "Demons And Wizards" and "The Magician's Birthday" and being on the threshold of "Sweet Freedom", which was the reason why "Proud Words" didn't receive due appraisal. Recorded with support from HEEP's rhythm section, Gary Thain and Lee Kerslake, the album is both close to the band's output and as far removed from it, judging on the opening "When Evening Comes". Blues signals the guitar direction rather than keyboards-based one might expect from Hensley. Off romantic verses, intensity builds up to three guitar layers measuring the emotional depth on to liquid solo. Still, bar-room piano paves a way for a tad bleak "A King Without A Throne" Thain covers with his ornaments.

Going for the proximity to his proceedings with the band, Ken takes two rabbits out of his hat. "Rain", for one, shows no drastic difference from "The Magician's Birthday" version, it may even seem a bit superficial compared to David Byron's delivery and more reliable on electric piano but boasting expressive backing vocals on organ bed during last chorus. Then, "Proud Words" were originally tried at the "Demons" sessions yet didn't make it onto the album: its optimistic drift would be at odds with mystic atmosphere. Here the song's where it belongs, guitars less heavy than Mick Box's while voice goes lower than on the band's demo (it appeared for the first time on "Time Of Revelation" box set) making a solid rapport with a bass line, now much elaborate. What's completely different this time is Hensley's trademark slide solo giving a tune a good impetus. And it's hard not to notice the resemblance of "Fortune" dramatic intro to HEEP's "Echoes In The Dark" - there's more to it, more songs in one, that is. Soft strum and fragile voice break into upbeat tempo organ-laden bridges to gather the pieces later. A life told in five odd minutes.

The gentler a song the better, so delicate flow of "From Time To Time" undepinned by synth drone and meandering Hammond and the "Black Hearted Lady" light shade come hard to resist and through hopeful transparency of "Go Down" lead to the perhaps most oustanding moment, "Cold Autumn Sunday". Its simple sincerity makes a tune relate to another Sunday, one where "Lady In Black" disappeared, the same mood holds no tragedy in kissing goodbye once guitar storms over piano. Finally, the melancholy thread running through the album finds a logical resolution in "The Last Time", slide slipping across acoustic strings for the autumn feel to linger on and pointing to "the dusty road without any shoes" to go.


See also Ken Hensley & John Wetton "More Than Conquerors"

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