CD Review – Ken Hensley – My Book Of Answers

There’s a couple of issues when approaching a release such as this, one sad the other artistic. The sadness is, of course, that Ken very sadly passed away late last year, so this is the last album that he worked on. The artistic one is that it is said to be extremely difficult to set poetry to music, especially in the rock and pop fields. It has been done in the classical world, and narrated poems have been given musical backdrops, but it has been less successful in popular music to have poems as lyrics. Both have rhythm of course, but the cadences and scanning may be very different. There are problems in popular music with the use of vowels near the end of lines which would be irrelevant in poetry. Songs can be poetic, it goes without saying, but music and poetry are different mediums.

This album came about through the chance meeting of Ken with a fan, Vladimir Emelin, at Alicante airport. Besides providing an autograph and exchanging the usual pleasantries, Ken also gave the fan his email address. Eventually, Vladamir asked Ken if he would turn a couple of his poems into songs. “I tried a couple of songs, although I didn’t know if I could do it because I’ve never done it before. He loved it and he wanted me to do more and more until we finally ended up with an album’s worth of songs.” Ken explains. The difficulties were increased as the poems had been written in Russian and had to be translated.

Like many musicians, Ken had to face that his otherwise hectic schedule was brought to a sudden stop by the coronavirus lockdowns and he found that he had some time on his hands to dedicate to the project. With the assembled band file sharing, Ken actually found it relatively easy to achieve progress. Vladimir also suggested a video and they would, eventually, make a video for each track together with a concert of all of the songs which was filmed, with social distancing, close to Hensley’s home in Spain.

“I’ve never done anything like this before and, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t recall anybody else who has,” Ken explains. “I’m also developing a lyric book which will be a beautiful piece. Each song feature’s the original Russian lyric, the translation by Vladimir’s friend in Siberia and my notated stuff where I changed the words of the poem into a song and created verses, bridges and choruses. The fans can see all the changes I made, and understand why I made them, and then there’s the final lyric that appears on the album. Alisia Vaselieva, a wonderful illustrator and friend of Vladimir’s, has done an illustration for each song, so five pages for each song and it will be a deluxe hard-back package – a collectors’ item.”

The resulting music is grounded in bluesy-heavy rock, with the songs well-crafted and tasteful. Ken the song-writer must have known he would have to adjust the poems to make them work as lyrics and for the most part he is extremely successful, although there is the odd clunky moment. The assembled musicians all make significant contributions, not the least drummer Tommy Lopez, whose really fine percussive input is backed up with some quality string arrangements. There are one or two slushy moments though. The ballad Cover Girl is a bit lacking in the passion department and Light The Fire In My Heart is a little over-sentimental. Ken’s own performances are excellent as he’s in rocking-mode, and the fragility of his voice really helps some of the songs, not least the opener Lost (My Guardian). Suddenly, The Darkest Hour, and Stand are probably the stand out tracks of an album that doesn’t really have a stunning feel, but is never the less a strong and solid-but-interesting release.

Given the releases circumstances, perhaps the last words should be left to Ken himself: “It’s been fascinating since day one! It’s somewhat miraculous how it all came together and how it’s continued to grow and develop, even through the crisis, to where it’s at today and where it’s going tomorrow.”

 “I’m really happy with it and I have a huge yardstick to measure it by! It seems as though it was meant to happen.”

1. Lost (My Guardian) (4:43)
2. Right Here, Right Now (4:06)
3. The Cold Sacrifice (4:08)
4. The Silent Scream (3:19)
5. Cover Girl (4:07)
6. Light The Fire In My Heart (4:43)
7. Stand (Chase The Beast Away) (4:51)
8. The Darkest Hour (4:57)
9. Suddenly (5:41)
Bonus track:
10. The Darkest Hour (acoustic) (4:54)

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

Date of Release: 5th March 2021
Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Available as a CD/DVD and Vinyl Album package

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