Ken Hensley holds a special place in my musical upbringing. My first ever rock concert was in 1973 at Bournemouth Winter Gardens, and the band on stage that night was Uriah Heep. They were at the height of their powers, and made a massive impression on the starry eyed 14 year old marvelling at these demi-gods on stage. I happened to be on the right-hand side of the hall, quite near the front, and the nearest band member was Ken Hensley stood behind his Hammond organ, long locks flying in the smoky atmosphere. His solo spot during the lengthy Gypsy was astonishing, and that night set me on the road of rock.
I was really quite upset at the news of his passing last November, but have to admit that I’d paid scant regard to his solo activities over the last twenty years or so. The news that he had completed the recording of a new album prior to his untimely death interested me though, and I resolved to hear it. The story behind the making of this final record is intriguing. By chance, Hensley met a Russian fan at an airport, one Vladimir Emelin. Vladimir got an autograph and photo, and most obligingly on Hensley’s part, an email address. Emelin later sent Hensley a couple of poems he’d written and asked whether the songwriter might try to turn his poetry into songs, which he did. Hensley must have liked the results, as he asked Emelin for more poems, and over the course of two years, an album of songs was written. The process must have been somewhat difficult, since the poetry had to be translated from Russian into English, then Hensley had to make alterations and adjustments to form the words into song structures, but it seems to have worked out. The result of this unlikely meeting and subsequent collaboration is My Book of Answers, and I’m quite pleasantly surprised at how good it is.
Anyone who was hoping for a return to fantasy will, of course, be disappointed, but more realistic expectations are well met. Hensley has crafted some good songs, assembled a band of quality to record them, file sharing at distance obviously since it was recorded last year, and it sounds pretty fresh. The record opens well with Lost (My Guardian), Hensley’s world-weary voice working well with the gritty classic rock sound. It’s heavier and more guitar orientated than I was expecting, and it rocks. Hot on its heels comes Right Here Right Now, which follows a similar format, but with a slightly more commercial flavour. Emelin’s words don’t always fit easily into Hensley’s song structures, but for the most part it works.
I’ll mention the core of Hensley’s band at this point, as they do a good job of fleshing out his songs and ideas. Izzy Cueto plays some spirited guitar, Moises Cerezo is rock steady on bass, and perhaps the lynch pin is Tommy Lopez. Not only is he very solid on drums and percussion, but he is responsible for the various string arrangements which are crucial to several songs.
Cold Sacrifice follows, opening in dramatic fashion, Hammond more in evidence, and we have a piece which wouldn’t be too out of place on a Heep album. Similarly, The Silent Scream has that balance of hooks and melody which mark Hensley’s craft. So far so good. I have to say though that for me, the quality dips in the middle of this album, and I’m less keen on the next two songs. Cover Girl is a sweeping ballad which sounds passionate, but ultimately doesn’t quite deliver. Light the Fire in My Heart similarly is earnest and, I’m sure, heartfelt, but is swamped in sentimentality. Lyrically, it could be about Hensley and Emelin’s chance meeting, but musically it’s rather predictable.
All is not lost though, and the final three songs are much better. Stand is a kind of torch song I guess, with classy backing vocals, and a sentiment anyone could get behind, and I’m singing along with gusto. The Darkest Hour is, as one might guess from the title, a much darker track, but quite beautiful. It deals with impending death, but not in a morbid way, and conveys a feeling of hope and peace. The final song is probably the stand out of the album. Suddenly is a poignant closing piece, not only for this album, but for Hensley’s career. Did he know his days were numbered?
Suddenly, another voice, this one gentle and clear,
When you’ve finished the task I have given you there
Come on home, you are welcome here”
It’s a moving song, and a marvellous piece of song craft. So we have what I would describe as a fitting tribute to Ken Hensley with this final work. Obviously his glory days were during his decade with Uriah Heep, and that will be what he is remembered for, and rightly so. But this is a solid collection of songs, and a very worthwhile last word. He will be missed for sure, but he has left a lasting legacy of music made with integrity, and he can be proud of this last chapter.
[You can read Geoff Ford’s interview with Ken Hensley HERE.]
01. Lost (My Guardian) (4:43)
02. Right Here, Right Now (4:06)
03. The Cold Sacrifice (4:08)
04. The Silent Scream (3:19)
05. Cover Girl (4:07)
06. Light The Fire In My Heart (4:43)
07. Stand (Chase The Beast Away) (4:51)
08. The Darkest Hour (4:57)
09. Suddenly (5:41)
~ Bonus track:
10. The Darkest Hour (acoustic) (4:54)
Total Time – 45:29
Ken Hensley – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Hammond Organ, Piano
Tommy Lopez – Drums, Percussion, String Arrangements, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Moises Cerezo – Bass, Piano, Backing Vocals
Izzy Cueto – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Francesco Severino – Bass
David Gonzalez – Piano
Ekaterina Nadaresinvita – Backing Vocals
Roberto Tiranti – Backing Vocals
Belinda Campbell – Backing Vocals
Rosie Doonan – Backing Vocals
Jacke Knights – Piano
Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 5th March 2021