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Gentle Giant - Free Hand CD (album) cover

FREE HAND

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

4.28 | 1312 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

siLLy puPPy
5 stars As the early boom of progressive rock waxed and waned in a relatively short period from 1969 to 1975, many bands came and went or transmogrified into ever increasing commercial arenas that sacrificed their earlier ambitions, however through it all GENTLE GIANT continued to crank out albums that continued to hone their prog rocking skills to new heights despite flirting with the more accessible song structures that were slowly simplifying the defining qualities that made prog rock, well so bold and daring. By the time 1975 arrived when they released their seventh album FREE HAND, the two remaining Shulman brothers had steered their creative outfit into prog rock the pinnacle of prog refinement successfully retaining their perfect marriage between brutal prog complexities and pop hook sensibilities.

After more than paying their dues and striking a friendship with Jethro Tull on the extensive touring circuits, this British band scored a contract with Chrysalis Records in the UK but found their most successful charting album on the US Billboard charts (#48). Gone were the long bouts with dissonance and in was a slightly more accessible sound with the most sophisticated of production values mixed in quadrophonic but nevertheless still dressed up with the unmistakable GENTLE GIANT-isms such as their polyphonic instrumental gymnastics, folk laden vocal fugues and heavy modern rock resonating side by side with renaissance anachronisms. However by this time, the band was a fully fueled prog rock machine churning out one addictive tune after another with all the excepted prog soaked outbursts of ambition.

Taking a lighter approach from the more political charged "The Power And The Glory," FREE HAND found the band at their most commercial crossover potential without sacrificing one little bit of all those luscious idiosyncrasies that made the band stand out from the pack. With catchy, even funky riffs as on the opener "Just The Same," GG proved they could adapt their unique time signature frenzies to the most contemporary sounds of the era but in the end composed music that sounds timeless in nature. While steeped in hard rock guitar riffs that connect the band to the burgeoning prog rock scene that was in the process of giving way to less ambitious musical genres, GG found a way to transverse both sides of the fence.

Despite constructing much easier to follow overall song structures, somehow GG exploited every available option to unleash their magic. "On Reflection" comes off as a somewhat catchy little tune but in a short timespan runs the gamut of vocal harmonic fugues in playful interlude with Kerry Minnear's plethora of impressive keyboard runs with plenty of time signature outbursts that should kill any sense of continuity but actually serve to heighten the sense of adventure with an impressive eclectic collection of instruments trading off including the harp, cello, violin, viola, vibraphone, glockenspiel and the list goes on. GG effortlessly exhibits some of the best musicianship prog rock has to offer with their exhaustive fusion of rock, jazz, folk and Baroque classical into sensual yet aggressively angular melodic hooks.

As with any GENTLE GIANT album, you really have to go into it on the band's own terms in order to appreciate FREE HAND. Despite being laced with easily digestible hooks the band still finds the perfect marriage with escapades into the unconventional instrumental and harmonic bombast. While their newfound catchiness was the perfect gateway into the following less sophisticated albums that would find the band fizzle out in irrelevance, FREE HAND is the point where they found all their trademark attributes in the perfect balance and the most recommended starting point to explore the utterly unique musical universe that the band had spent the early 70s constructing. Yet another masterpiece in a long string of outstanding musical gems.

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |

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