❉ The untimely passing of Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley gives this swansong added poignancy and meaning.
“My Book of Answers is a fine testament to Ken’s songwriting skills, and it shows that after 55 years in the business his enthusiasm and the musical spark that has touched so many classic rock fans lives over this period, hadn’t dimmed and he was still having fun making music as well as sounding as fresh and vital as he did with Uriah Heep.”
Ken Hensley’s My Book of Answers was borne out of a chance encounter on a flight to Moscow with Russian writer Vladimir Emelin, a huge fan of Ken Hensley and his work with Uriah Heep, who were always huge in the former Eastern Bloc countries. After exchanging emails, they kept in touch and in September 2018 Emelin came to Spain, where Hensley lived, and asked if Ken could turn some of his poems into songs. Following the first few songs, Ken and Vladimir realised that the project was about to turn into an album, and, recorded and mixed during the pandemic, it also sadly turned out to be Ken Hensley’s final recorded work, as he passed away in November 2020.
Following on from 2020’s Hensley’s boxed sets from HNE, The Bronze Years and Tales of Live Fire and Other Mysteries, My Book of Answers is a welcome addition to the catalogue, released on CD/DVD and Vinyl with the usual care and attention that is a Cherry Red hallmark.
Ken’s untimely passing makes the context and sound of My Book of Answers (titled by Vladimir Emelin) poignant and moving, particularly as the album is so full of vitality and life. Writing music to the words already translated and utilising all his compositional and musical skills at his command makes this a stunning album of original material and manages to blend the usual Hensley musical styles with lyrics that in the event of his death have added poignancy and meaning.
Working using musicians local to Alicante, where Ken lived, and long-term producer and collaborator Tommy Lopez, Ken would record his pieces, and send them across the ether for the other musicians to record their parts, and together the album was formed, like so many others during 2020.
Using his trademark guitar and Hammond sound, this is classic Hensley, and the translations of Emelin’s words from Russian to English are the cornerstones of what makes this album so special and going from the recorded pieces that Ken had made in his home studio gives a rawer feel to the music, and this works perfectly, particularly on the rocking opener of Lost.
The wonderful Cover Girl with its fantastic lyrics and the incredibly beautiful Darkest Hour where Ken sings about death is layered with added poignancy and sadness because of his passing, whilst Suddenly, with its reflective lyrics could be seen as a last recorded testament and reflection on a life well lived.
Throughout the album Ken sticks closely to his rock roots and there’s plenty of big riffs, wonderful Hammond sounds, and Kens distinctive vocals, backed by Izzy Cueto on guitar, Moses Cerezo on bass and with Tommy Lopez on drums and string arrangements, the band really get this material, and it sounds a lot more cohesive than it has any right to with a disjointed recording process.
My Book of Answers is a fine testament to Ken’s songwriting skills, and it shows that after 55 years in the business his enthusiasm and the musical spark that has touched so many classic rock fans lives over this period, hadn’t dimmed and he was still having fun making music as well as sounding as fresh and vital as he did with Uriah Heep.
From the opening Lost to the closing acoustic version of Darkest Hour, there isn’t a bad track on this album, and any one of these pieces could have effortlessly slotted into any of Ken’s expansive back catalogue. Ken’s vocals really suit the reflective nature of Emelin’s lyrics, as his experience and age show in the voice which had lost none of its power and nuance.
After the album was complete, there was talk of Ken and Emelin working together on a second project, which sadly now will never come to fruition. This is a real shame, if it was going to be anywhere near as strong as this album. However, there is another finished Ken Hensley project due out later this year, recorded before My Book of Answers.
As a swansong, this one hell of a way to bow out, on an album where he sounds so full of life and inspiration, we should, rightly mourn his passing, but more importantly celebrate the life he had and the fact that he was still capable of making albums as powerful as this, right to the end.
I will let Ken have the last word in this review: Reflecting on his 55-year career Ken said, “My life has been fantastic, but it’s not been easy, it was a lot of hard work but when you do what you love best it doesn’t seem like hard work”.
❉ Ken Hensley – ‘My Book of Answers’ (HNE HNECD144) was released on 5 March 2021 as a CD/DVD and Vinyl Album, through Cherry Red Records, RRP £10.95 (CD/DVD). Order the album here: http://cherryred.co/KenHensley. NB: Due to high demand, this title is currently on re-press. Please be aware that any new orders made now will not be shipped until Cherry Red Records have fresh stock at the end of March.
❉ James R. Turner is a music and media journalist. Over the last 25 years he has contributed to the Classic Rock Society magazine, BBC online, Albion Online, The Digital Fix, DPRP, Progarchy, ProgRadar and more. James’ debut book is out in September and he is head of PR for Bad Elephant Music. He lives in North Somerset with his fiancee Charlotte, their Westie Dilys & Ridgeback Freja, three cats and too many CDs, records & Blu-Rays.