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Hensley, Ken: The Bronze Years 1973 - 1981

From 1973 until this very year (2019 at time of writing) one-time Uriah Heep man Ken Hensley has treated us to a huge amount of music outside of the band that he still can’t quite shake of his long standing link with. The first of these solo sojourns, Proud Words On A Dusty Shelf, arrived in 1973, when Hensley was still part of The ‘eep and very much ‘appy to be so. Together with 1975’s Eager To Please and 1980’s Free Spirit these three albums have been brought together under the banner The Bronze Years 1973-1980 by Cherry Red/HNE Records with a newly recorded DVD, which finds roughly an hours’ worth of new chat with man himself regarding the three albums re-released here and the era in which they were recorded.

Proud Words On A Dusty Shelf was written while the keyboard player and often overlooked singer was helping his main band through a purple patch of albums in the shape of The Magician’s Birthday, Sweet Freedom and Wonderworld, so maybe it isn’t too much of a surprise that a record featuring fellow Heepers in the shape of drummer Lee Kerslake and bassist Gary Thain doesn’t really stray too far from home. “When Evening Comes Again” starts the journey in quite raunchy rock n’ roll style but with one or two exceptions, from there things mellow out while remaining thoroughly recognisable. A reworked version of Heep’s “Rain” gives an interesting insight into a song Hensley felt should always have sounded this way, whereas “From Time To Time”, “Go Down” and “The Last Time” are wonderful meanders that whisk us back to a simpler time where complex music was presented in such an engaging way. If you’ve never heard this album, then this box is worth investing in for Proud Words On A Dusty Shelf alone.

Not that Eager To Please allows the standard to slip, with the 1975 release continuing in a similar vein as Proud… although it did add a more expected harder edged bite to its predecessor’s lightness of touch. This time Hensley was joined by Mark Clarke on bass and Bugs Pemberton on drums, while handling the rest of the instrumentation and vocals alone. And while the lack of fellow Heep-mates could have been seen as signalling a move away from Hensley’s signature sound, the end results of tracks like “Through The Eyes Of A Child” and “In The Morning” is to merely offer a slightly different take on the main-man’s day job. Adding the single only “Who Will Sing For You” as a bonus track, while Eager To Please plays things a little safe it does so with class and grace, having aged remarkably well for an album that’s now the best part of 45 years old.

Five years would pass before Hensley would fly solo once more, but with Free Spirit he was setting a more permanent course, what with the massively disappointing Uriah Heep album Conquest, also from 1980, being his last with the band. For his third solo outing Hensley recruited an impressive session outfit, with Mark Clarke, Trevor Bolder, Denny Bell and Gary Taylor sharing bass duties, while Jim Toomey, Geoff Allan, Ian Paice and Kenny Jones rotated behind the kit. Moving with the times ever so slightly, the production, from Hensley himself, would add an eighties sheen in places that doesn’t really stand the test of time and also causes “The System” to verge into the world of throwaway pop-rock. Opener “Inside The Mystery” suffers a similar fate and while it is replete with more obvious Hensley-isms, the synth sounds clearly move things into an area that doesn’t really sit all that comfortably with the group of musicians tasked with bringing it all together. Even with bonus track, the equally so-so b’side “Telephone”, Free Spirit barely beats the 30 minute mark and while it’s not a terrible album, it is certainly the least compelling of those collected here - and in truth it earns that unwanted accolade by some distance.

In what proved a decidedly left field move for both him and the band, Hensley would go on to join a revamped Blackfoot after Free Spirit pretty much sank without trace, and while I may think that Siogo and Vertical Smiles are underrated AOR classics, Blackfoot’s Southern Fried boogie fanbase would completely disagree as they basically disowned their former heroes. From there further solo work would appear from Hensley and continue on in various guises to this very day. However, the next after these first three wouldn’t arrive until 1994, in the shape of From Time To Time. That, however, is a tale and a sound for another day.

The Bronze Years, arguably, finds Ken Hensley at his best - Proud Words On A Dusty Shelf - and near his (still rather good) worst - Free Spirit, however the good far outweighs the bad and with an excellent remaster this is a boxset well worth the investment of any 70s classic rock fan.


Track Listing
DISC ONE: PROUD WORDS ON A DUSTY SHELF
1. WHEN EVENING COMES
2. FROM TIME TO TIME
3. KING WITHOUT A THRONE
4. RAIN
5. PROUD WORDS
6. FORTUNE
7. BLACK-HEARTED LADY
8. GO DOWN
9. COLD AUTUMN SUNDAY
10. THE LAST TIME
BONUS TRACKS
11. FROM TIME TO TIME (EDITED SINGLE)
12. FROM TIME TO TIME (MONO)
13. WHEN EVENING COMES (EDITED SINGLE)


DISC TWO: EAGER TO PLEASE
1. EAGER TO PLEASE
2. STARGAZER
3. SECRET
4. THROUGH THE EYES OF A CHILD
5. PART THREE
6. THE HOUSE ON THE HILL
7. WINTER OR SUMMER
8. TAKE AND TAKE
9. LONGER SHADOWS
10. IN THE MORNING
11. HOW SHALL I KNOW
BONUS TRACK
12. WHO WILL SING FOR YOU (SINGLE)


DISC THREE: FREE SPIRIT
1. INSIDE THE MYSTERY
2. NEW YORK
3. THE SYSTEM
4. WHEN
5. NO MORE
6. BROWN EYED BOY
7. DO YOU FEEL ALRIGHT
8. TELEPHONE
9. WOMAN
10. NEW ROUTINE
BONUS TRACK
11. INSPIRATION (B-SIDE)


DISC FOUR: DVD-VIDEO: KEN HENSLEY IN CONVERSATION with MALCOLM DOME
1. KEN HENSLEY DISCUSSES PROUD WORDS ON A DUSTY SHELF (22:20)
2. KEN HENSLEY DISCUSSES EAGER TO PLEASE (18:31)
3. KEN HENSLEY DISCUSSES FREE SPIRIT (21:30)

Added: December 8th 2019
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score:
Related Link: The Bronze Years @ Cherry Red
Hits: 264
Language: english

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