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Sky

The Studio Albums: 1979-1987 Box Set

Review by Gary Hill

This is a particularly awesome box set. It's also a great value. You get all seven of Sky's studio albums, and as a bonus there is a live DVD included as the eighth disc. The band is intriguing. While the general moniker of "instrumental music" applies to everything here, that's a pretty non-descript reference. The thing is, no two albums from this act is completely alike. Mozart is literally a classical music album with some rock built into it. Their debut seemed to combine fusion with prog and classical. Just when it seemed like the band was moving in one direction, the next album would take them into another.

 

There is not a bad album in the set here. Personally, I think that The Great Balloon Race was their best, but your mileage may vary. That's part of the charm of this set. You can check them all out and decide for yourself. Plus, that live DVD is arguably the most cohesive and powerful performance of all. It's captured with excellent sound and video recording, making it a fine addition. Since we don't do track by track reviews of DVDs, I didn't review that independently here. Also, I have reviewed each of the albums individually, and those reviews are included here.

 

The lineup changed over the years, too, and there have been some amazing musicians who have been part of this group. The list looks like this: Herbie Flower, Tristan Fry, Steve Gray, Paul Hart, Francis Monkman, Kevin Peek and John Williams.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
CD One
         
Sky - Sky
This was the debut album from Sky. It really set a high bar. The instrumental blend of sounds on the disc ranges from Alan Parsons like music to fusion and more. There are musical references I can make to everyone from Al Di Meola to Pink Floyd. This is quite a strong set.
Westway
The opening of this is sort of a cross of a Pink Floyd kind of thing and funk. It's basically just the rhythm section. As melodies start to emerge over the top I'm reminded a bit of Mike Oldfield. The cut gets into some almost King Crimson like moments, too.
Carillon
Mellow elements start this, basically piano and acoustic guitar. It grows outward gradually from there. It gets a bit more powered up right near the end, but overall remains a mellower piece.
Danza
With some definite old world music elements at play, this rises up into a cool folk prog styled number. It works through some shifts and variants of its main musical themes. There is some killer melodic guitar soloing over the top further down the road.
Gymnopedie No. 1
Sedate and slowly moving, this is quite a pretty piece of music. It has an element that makes me think something like Synergy quite a bit.
Cannonball
A much more energized and rocking number, this is such a cool jam. There are things here that make me think of Alan Parsons Project. Other parts have more fusion built into them. The guitar soloing is all rock music, though. There are some unusual shifts and turns built into this thing.
Where Opposites Meet
Taking up a full side of the original vinyl, this multipart suite is the epic of the album. This rises up gradually with an Alan Parsons meets fusion kind of vibe. That works through and things drop back for a while to a mellower motif that's still rooted in the same musical genre mix. A more rocking guitar rises up slow lines of sound. Eventually there is a shift to a cool section with intricate guitar and harpsichord. This movement again makes me think of Alan Parsons to a large degree. There are also elements that make think of Al Di Meola. This thing works through so many cool shifts and changes. I love mellower movement after the ten minute mark. It has some exceptional guitar work built into it. Before it gets to the eleven minute mark they have taken us into some more powered up stuff to move it forward. It turns into more of a mainstream rock mode further down the road. As it expands outward from there it gets into more of that Alan Parsons like territory. An acoustic guitar section around the seventeen minute mark makes me think of Steve Howe a bit. A false ending is heard after that. Then some keyboards rise up in a pattern that calls to mind Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells." They shift out to more rocking territory, again feeling a bit like Alan Parsons as they drive onward. That segment eventually takes this to its close. This is a dynamic and intriguing piece of music from start to finish.
CD Two
             
Sky - Sky 2
This was originally released as a double LP on vinyl.  It actually almost feels like two different albums. The first half is closer to the sound of their debut set, instrumental progressive rock with a lot of fusion built into it. The second half, though, is very much oriented toward classical music. The end result, though, is killer instrumental music with some varied flavors.
Hotta
As this opens it makes me think of how a combination of Synergy and Alan Parsons Project might sound. The cut works out in a great driving mid-tempo arrangement. Cool lines of melody weave tales over the top of this backdrop. Some of the guitar soloing section later makes me think of Meddle era Pink Floyd. That peaks around the six minute mark, and a drum solo takes over from there. It comes back out into the main structure long enough to end.
Dance of the Little Fairies
Keyboard textures start, and the cut grows outward from there. It has a playful kind of psychedelic vibe to it. It grows outward with some cool classically tinged jamming.
Sahara
A classically styled piano solo opens this and holds it for a time. Other elements threaten to rise up until around the one minute mark when it moves out into a jam that makes me of Al Di Meola quite a bit. That reference point is valid as the guitar solos, too. It drops way down to a mellow movement around the two and a half minute mark. It eventually reaches back upward, and some melodic guitar soloing is heard over the top. A Latin music meets both psychedelia and classically infused sound is heard later. That powers up into rocking territory that's again quite Di Meola like.
Fifo

This is an epic piece that lasts more than 17 minutes. It starts with a driving, harder rocking jam that again has elements of Al Di Meola's sound in the mix. I can make out things like The Dixie Dregs on this, too. It's a fusion based number that's so tasty. It drops to mellower section after the minute and a half mark and moves outward from there. The cut gets into some more killer fusion after a while. After that plays through for a while, a rather playful prog section takes control. It eventually shifts to a mellower, yet intricate movement. Then after running through like that, this works out into some more powered up prog territory. They create all kind of interesting melodic bits as this movement continues. There is some pretty awesome instrumental work as this builds toward a peak. It drops way down from there and gradually starts to evolve outward in a rather freeform and tentative movement. A cool melodic rock jam emerges around the 14 minute mark to take control and guide it in new directions. That section serves as the backdrop for some more intriguing innovation as this drives onward. A keyboard based sections takes it at the end, fading down to close the piece.

Tuba Smarties
This piece is a live recording that has a lot of polka music styled stuff built into it. The tuba really drives it.  Of course, with that title can you expect anything else?
Ballet-Volta
Delicate and quite classical in nature, this is pretty stuff. It's primarily an acoustic guitar solo. It has a couple different movements.
Gavotte & Variations
Another classical piece, I love the harpsichord on this. The whole thing just glides along so nicely with a very traditional classical texture.
Andante
A classical acoustic guitar solo, this is another tasty and tasteful number.
Tristan's Magic Garden
While there is still a lot of classical music built into the first half of this, and it is another sedate movement, this has almost a psychedelic prog vibe to it. It shifts to percussion entirely mid-track with drums and vibes driving it. There is a driving almost jazz rock feeling to this section, but it remains a percussion solo.
El Cielo
Intricate acoustic guitar and synthesizer the driving points of the first section of this cut. There are things about it that make me think of Emerson, Lake and Palmer a bit. There is a Spanish vibe to this in some ways. They work through a more folk prog styled section before turning toward more symphonic prog. Then it makes its way back to a revitalized version of earlier classically inspired sounds.
Vivaldi
Francis Monkman was in Curved Air at one time, and here Sky takes on a Curved Air song. The mix of prog and classical on this number really works particularly well here. It drops back to guitar solo around the two minute mark. That holds it for about thirty seconds before things gradually power back upward.
Scipio
Delicate and playful classical elements open this and hold it for the first minute or so. The cut gets some synthesizer over the top for a bit, leaning it closer to instrumental prog, but it shifts toward fast paced classical music. Around the two minute mark it works outward to a more rocking jam that again makes me think of ELP a bit. The cut makes its way through a number of shifts in a cool instrumental prog jam that's informed by classical music.
Toccata
This is the famous "scary movie classical music" piece from Bach. They start it in fairly traditional ways but eventually move out into more prog rocking territory with it. It really becomes a smoking hot hard rocker.
CD Three
              
Sky - Sky 3
As you might gather from the title, this was the third album from Sky. Between the two releases Francis Monkman had departed, being replaced by Steve Gray. Interestingly enough, in some ways this feels more like the logical successor to the debut disc than the second album did. Either way, this is another classy excursion into instrumental music.
The Grace
This is a short guitar solo that's rather playful and delicate.
Chiropodie No.1
Melodic fusion with a lot of progressive rock and some hints of classical music creates the musical concept here. They take this through a number of changes as it continues to evolve.
Westwind
I dig the cool fusion vibe that starts this. It seems to promise some greatness will emerge, and as this moves forward it does. There are definitely plenty of progressive rock things at play on this track, too. There is some particularly cool guitar work on parts of this number, but around the three minute mark it drops to a keyboard driven movement. It grows outward from there, making me think of Al Di Meola to a large degree. This has some dramatic modes at play. It gets into more mainstream progressive rock territory for the closing movement.
Sarabande
A classical piece by Handel, this works in delicately and grows outward with a pretty standard classical approach at first. It gets a bit more modern takes as it continues, and I particularly like the harpsichord work on the performance. The synthesizer brings something special to it, too. There are part of this that make me think of something Rick Wakeman might do.
Connecting Rooms
This starts tentatively with some echoey, trippy textures. That element holds the piece for a while. Eventually it shifts toward some classically inspired stuff as it moves forward. Guitar that starts to rise up after the two minute mark brings more of a traditional progressive rock sound to it. The cut continues to work forward from that, getting into some almost mainstream rock music for a bit. A false ending after the four minute mark leads to a mellow arrangement of piano and acoustic guitar. It eventually works onward toward more fusion-like material as it evolves. It still remains fairly sedate, though.
Moonroof
A harder rocking jam, this makes me think of The Dixie Dregs quite a bit. There is some tasty guitar soloing built into the piece. There are also some particularly cool shifts and changes here. Around the two and a half minute mark this shifts to a different section, with a bit more of a mainstream rock vibe to it. The guitar starts soloing over the top again, reinforcing that Dregs comparison. There is definitely a bit of a down-home country element to it to some degree.
Sister Rose
This comes in with a cool rocking vibe. It gets some funky stuff added to the mix as it continues. This is very much a fusion styled number. I'm reminded of Al Di Meola on this to some large degree. While everything on the track is noteworthy, I am particularly fond of both the bass playing and the guitar work. There is a drop back to intricate acoustic guitar work on the number. It powers back out into a powerhouse jam from there.
Hello

Delicate musical modes open this, and hold it for more than two and a half minutes, with some changes ensuing within that basic concept. Some electric guitar brings a more powered up motif to the song, but the same basic melodic structure continues as the driving force here. It drops back down after about a minute, and those mellower concepts take it from there to the ending.

Dance of the Big Fairies
Harpsichord opens this with a definite classical music concept. A tuba joins as the piece moves forward. Around the one minute mark there is a short percussion break. Then the tuba returns as it drives onward. Other elements are gradually added to the mix, with a definite classical music vibe remaining. There is a bit of a stop followed by a journey into more polka like sounds. The gradually gets intensified as this drives forward. It reaches a peak and then ends. Some playful world music type sounds rise up but eventually get rebuilt into more of that polka type thing. It starts speeding up from there as it moves to the closing.
Meeheeco
This comes in very mellow and a standup bass is heard as it works gradually forward. Some mellow guitar eventually drives the melodic elements as this evolves. It has a mellow jazz kind of vibe overall. After the two and a half minute mark that bass remains as the only instrument, creating a driving kind of groove. Other instruments join, and we're taken into a more energized jazz jam from there. The piano gets some cool soloing over the top. The whole tune continues to shift and grow in some particularly cool ways.
Keep Me Safe And Keep Me Warm, Shelter Me From Darkness
This is just a short number. It starts with some classical elements and then fires out to some powered up stuff from there. That drops away and leaves the mellower stuff behind. For some reason this piece makes me think of Queen just a bit. It's a great way to end the set in style.
CD Four
               
Sky - Sky 4: Forthcoming
The fourth album from Sky focused on new arrangements of music written by others. While there is an emphasis on classical music, there are other things included as well. The range of instrumental music we're accustomed to from this outfit (fusion, classical and prog) is still pretty well represented, but the fusion is the least common element here.
Masquerade
Fairly mellow classical music is the concept on the early parts of this. It has an almost creepy carnival vibe to it. It works out to a more prog rock based version of this concept.
Ride of the Valkyries
Starting with a dramatic almost psychedelic section, this is a new arrangement of the well-known piece from Wagner. While there are some rocking elements to this, overall it remains closer to a full classical treatment.
March to the Scaffold
Starting with classical piano, this arrangement gets quite a bit of a progressive rock edge added to it. It's perhaps close to things like the more classical side of Rick Wakeman's catalog and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
To Yelasto Pedi (Theme From 'Z')

Playful classical elements open this number. It grows out from there with more of a decidedly folk prog styling. Still, it has plenty of the classical element, of course. The organ adds quite a bit to this arrangement. There is a drop back later in the track to a mellower section that shows off a bit of a world music vibe. It grows back outward from there with a definite Ethnic folk prog thing underway. That rather rocking section ends it.

Waltz No.2 (From Valses Nobles et Sentimentales)
There is almost an otherworldly vibe to the classical music elements that start this. A piano melody eventually rises up to take command. Still, this wouldn't be out of place in the soundtrack to a weird horror film as it drifts onward with other instruments in the mix.
Fantasy
Here we get more of a prog rock take on a Bach composition. This is a killer jam that again feels a bit like something Wakeman or Emerson might do. I like this one a lot. It's pretty cool stuff for sure.
My Giselle (From a Theme by Adam De La Halle)
There is a dramatic building element that leads this cut out of the gate. The piece gets quite rocking and is a standout of this particular album. It works out to more melodic stuff at times, but this is the most decidedly progressive rock number here. It has some great shifts and changes.
Xango
World music and more folk prog stuff seems to be on hand here. There is a bit of an edge to this that makes me think of Robert Fripp's circulation guitar styles that are the kind of thing California Guitar Trio uses.
Fantasia
With both rock and classical elements at play, this is another solid instrumental piece. It manages some particularly energetic moments.
Skylark
A new arrangement of an old standard, this is slow moving and quite pretty. It definitely makes its way into pure jazz territory. It's another classy number.
CD Five
         
Sky - Cadmium
This album is not nearly as classically oriented as some of their others are. Still, the classical elements do drive some of the pieces. Perhaps there is more of a mainstream rock vibe a lot of the times here. However you slice it, though, this is another solid disc of instrumental music that has a lot of prog and some fusion built into it. Mannheim Steamroller seems a valid reference for some of this, but the old familiar Alan Parsons Project element is still here a lot of the time, too.
Troika
Sleigh bells start this track off, and they work out into a classically based rock arrangement from there. This is a holiday piece, and as such reminds me a bit of Mannheim Steamroller. There are some ethnic music elements at play here. Ultimately, this is probably closest to folk prog than it is to anything else. There are some intriguing changes. The faster paced, more rocking section makes me think of a proggy version of The Ventures in a lot of ways.
Fayre
This has much more of a mainstream progressive rock structure to it. It's a high energy melodic romp that's quite cool.
A Girl in Winter
Folk music and progressive rock merge nicely on this number. While this is no big surprise, it's an effective song.
Mother Russia
This comes in mellower and quite classically oriented. It grows gradually before they eventually work it out to a rocking kind of jam on the ethnic music elements at the core of this composition. There are some intriguing twists and turns and differing textures. It does a great job of balancing mellower movements with more rocking ones and rock textures with traditional sounds. This is one of my favorite cuts on this disc.
Telex From Peru
Starting with more of a classical meets rock vibe, after a while this turns toward funk. It makes me think of both Alan Parsons Project and Pink Floyd in different ways. Actually, I'm reminded of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds album quite a bit. It drops way down before the four and a half minute mark, in almost a false ending. Some Spanish styled music rises up ever so gradually, transporting us to another place. Those elements combine with a rather jazzy thing to go forward.
The Boy From Dundee
Coming in mellow and stripped back, this gradually works upward from there. Jazz, new age textures and more merge on this as it gets more powered. It is more than anything else folk prog.
Night
More of a rocking sound is at the heart of this. It's arguably the most fusion-like piece on this set. It has some cool guitar sounds and driving grooves.
Then & Now
Balanced well between acoustic guitar and keyboards, this is a mellower number that has a lot of classical music in the mix.
Return to Me
A melodic and rather fun number, this has plenty of mainstream progressive rock and even some pop rock in the mix.
Son of Hotta
Fusion and psychedelic rock seem to merge here. This is a melodic number that's quite cool. It has some good energy, as well. It gets quite powerful and soaring further down the musical road.
CD Six
                    
Sky - The Great Balloon Race
While overall the concept of instrumental prog/fusion isn't greatly changed from their previous works, this one is just so strong. The quality and intensity are really dialed up a lot. There are some vocals on this but they range from spoken to sung non-lyrical ones, so it still qualifies mostly as instrumental.
Desperate For Your Love
Mellower elements bring this in with a trippy kind of space rock vibe. There are some spoken words almost in the background. This is unsettling and movie soundtrack like in a cool proggy way. More of those spoken voices come across as this grows upward. Eventually the rhythm section asserts itself and starts to take command. The number shifts more toward a melodic space rock meets fusion kind of groove. More spoken vocals are heard on this piece, this time further in the foreground. The jamming continues to guide the piece through some intriguing musical territory. There are some bits of whispered female vocals and some sung non-lyrical female vocals further down the road. This cut is almost paradigm shift level evolution from the previous work of the group.
Allegro
Classical keyboards open this number. They fire out into a powered up rocker based on those concepts from there. Again this is so much more powerful than the music they did before. It reaches toward metallic territory with the guitar sounds, but overall lands in the energized prog meets fusion end of reality.
The Land
A mellower, melodic piece, this is more like the stuff they did on earlier releases.
Peter's Wedding
This is a powerhouse number that deftly combines fusion and progressive rock. There are some seriously hard rocking elements and some dramatic shifts and turns built into this thing. It drops way down for a bass sole mid-track. There is a section after that with what sounds like sampled scat singing. Percussion is prominent there. As a flute jams amidst that percussion I'm reminded of the band Focus. Then it shifts out to something like fast paced old time movie music. It eventually works to more jazzy stuff before exploding out into a rocking jam that has some fusion mixed with progressive rock.
The Great Balloon Race
Coming in much mellower, this feels like Vangelis as it works forward. It shifts toward more rocking stuff after a time, though. This is so dramatic and powerful.
The Lady & The Imp
Again making me think of Vangelis, mellower keyboard based textures bring this into being. It works through like that for more than a minute. Then it shifts to a fast paced jam that has more fusion and classical music in the mix. I love the shift this way and that nature of this piece. There are definitely links to some of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's works here.
Caldando
Intricate acoustic guitar leads this into being. It works out from there. There are both classical and jazzy leanings on this number. Eventually it makes its way to more of a fusion meets New Age kind of arrangement as other instruments are added to the mix. This is melodic and effective.
Roleystone
An energetic and powered up number, this has plenty of prog and fusion in the mix. The guitar brings some hints of psychedelia, too.
Night Sky
I love the balance of acoustic guitar and piano on this sedate tune.
CD Seven
           
Sky - Mozart
The final album (to date - the group has not worked together since, but have not officially disbanded), this is the most classical release they ever did. It was recorded with a symphony orchestra. In fact, as a rock reviewer without any real classical training, I'm a bit out of my element reviewing this. It probably doesn't really fit under prog rock, but given the fact that a few songs do, and that the rest of their catalog lands there, that's where I'm putting it. As you might guess from the title, all the music here was written by Mozart.
The Marriage of Figaro: Overture
Classical and prog marry particularly well here. This is a killer symphonic prog piece. It seems a great way to bring the magic of Mozart to the immediacy of a rock arrangement.
Eine kleine Nachtmusik: Rondo
While this is perhaps less rocking than the opener, it's no less effective. It does focus more on the orchestral side of the equation. I like the acoustic guitar work on this number quite a bit.       
The Marriage of Figaro: Non So Piu, Cosa Son
More purely symphonic, this is interesting, but not a highlight.
Symphony No. 34: Last Movement
Now this does a great job of merging the symphonic and the rocking. It's energetic, bombastic and very entertaining.                        
Symphony No. 35 ("Haffner"): Andante
Intricate piano and guitar are at the heart of much of this piece.  There are definitely some turns and different moods here, though.        
The Magic Flute: Overture
Here we get another that's more purely symphonic at the start. There is a good balance between the bombastic and more sedate, though. Around the two minute mark it turns toward a more rock based version of the piece. It works back to the more fully symphonic stuff later, too.
Eine kleine Nachtmusik: Romanza
This is pretty much purely classical in its treatment and delivery. There is some nice acoustic guitar work in the mix here.
Horn Concerto No. 4 in E flat major: Rondo
Here we have another that's more purely classical. It has a good bombastic element. As you might guess, horn plays a big part in this arrangement.
Don Giovanni: La Ci Darem La Mano
Here we have another that's mostly full on classical in its treatment.
A Musical Joke: Presto
Now, this piece is very much set in a prog rock style, albeit symphonic prog. The keyboards drive it in some intriguing ways at the beginning. There are other elements at the heart of it later, but the energy and vibe remain. A false ending mid track gives way to a new movement. Electronic elements start that, and the symphonic arrangement lends more classical edge, but overall it is more of a modern rocking thing.
Come, Sweet May
The piano is prominent on this, but other elements are also deeply involved. This is a pretty piece that is one of the stronger of the classical numbers.
Alla Turca: Rondo
A powerful symphonic jam makes up the concept of this number. They move it between more bombastic and mellower movements.            

 

 
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