Artists | Issues | CD Reviews | Interviews | Concert Reviews | DVD/Video Reviews | Book Reviews | Who We Are | Staff | Home
 

Curved Air

The Albums 1970-1973

Review by Gary Hill

There have been a number of great re-mastered versions of classic Curved Air albums coming from Esoteric in the last few years. This new box set assembles four of them (two that include bonus tracks) into a handy (and quite nice) package. It all comes in a cardboard clamshell box. Each CD is encased in its own cardboard sleeve that reproduces the original album cover (two of them gatefolds). The set is rounded off by a large booklet with photos and lots of information. Since I previously reviewed all the tracks here when these came out as individual albums, the track reviews used here are copied from those reviews. Suffice it to say that this is a very classy way to get all of these great albums at once.

You will find bonus video footage of this release available at the Music Street Journal Youtube channel here: .youtube.com/watch?v=wBWSyn4TNCE

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2021  Volume 2. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2021.


Track by Track Review
CD One: Air Conditioning
                      
It Happened Today

There is a lot of psychedelia in the mix here. This is high energy, fast paced and cool. I love the guitar work around the top of the arrangement. There is an instrumental break later in the track that includes a lot of symphonic elements. I love the bass work on the section along with the way it evolves during its expanded duration. That segment takes the cut to its close.

Stretch
Violin opens this, and the cut grows outward from there with a rather fusion based sound. When the guitar arrangement takes over, this is part blues rock and part proggy Grateful Dead. The vocals make me think of Jefferson Airplane. There are some pretty crazy, but also cool shifts and changes in the instrumental section. This is such a classy tune.
Screw
Folk prog and symphonic elements unite at the start of this. As it moves into the song proper it becomes a very psychedelic styled piece. When it grows outward from there it takes on more proto-prog tendencies. It grows into some powerful progressive rock after a time, taking on symphonic leanings as it does so.
Blind Man
This is a bouncy kind of folk psychedelia at the start. This is classy stuff.
Vivaldi
As you might have guessed from the title, this instrumental is a rocking rendition of Vivaldi. The drumming is powerhouse, but the violin really drives the piece. The mid-sections of the cut are strictly violin solo. It grows into rocking territory within that format. It gets quite noisy as it approaches the five and a half minute mark. That section ends and the cut is reborn with the violin bringing the familiar themes back into it. From there other instruments rejoin, and we're taken into the song proper again.
Hide and Seek
This comes in with some hard rocking nearly jazzy weirdness. It grows outward from there. It's almost a minute and a half into the running time before the vocals enter. This cut has a great combination of prog and psychedelia built into it. It works through a number of changes along this route. This is one of my favorite songs here and has some killer guitar work. I love the melodic movement at the end of this.
Propositions
Drums kick this into being. Cool psychedelic rock joins from there. To me this feels very much like a proggier version of Jefferson Airplane. The instrumental section takes it more to Grateful Dead territory. As it moves outward from there it takes on some classical elements merged with that prog Airplane sound.
Rob One
Piano starts this instrumental and holds it for a time. The cut works out from with a slightly jazzy folk prog sound. The violin brings something special to the piece. It turns things a bit classical as the number continues to evolve.
Situations
Mellower psychedelic folk makes up the backdrop for the vocals here. It grows into more of that proggy Airplane sound on the powered up movement, but drops back down the mellow from there. Around the two and a half minute mark it turns to something that feels like a completely different song. It has a very psychedelic prog vibe, but a bit more rocking than the earlier motif. A guitar solo section brings it upward into more pure psychedelia from there. It gets pretty intense before dropping back to mellower psychedelic territory for the return of the vocals. It revisits some other section as it winds through.
Vivaldi with Cannons
They revisit the Vivaldi piece, but this one gets a lot of freaky psychedelic space elements added to the mix. It does end with a sound like a cannon. This is much shorter than the other version.
Bonus Tracks:
                 
It Happened Today (single version)

This is a single version of the opening track from the album proper. I think it works a bit better in this configuration. That said, you really can't complain either way.

What Happens When You Blow Yourself Up
Starting with some cool progressive rock instrumental work, this shifts out to something closer to a faster paced melodic psychedelic vibe for the entrance of the vocals. I really like this cut as well as anything on the album proper. It's a classy number that works so well. The instrumental work includes a killer keyboard solo.    
CD Two: Second Album
            
Young Mother

Weird textures rise upward. As they get above a certain level the sound is more easily recognizable as progressive rock music. This introduction works through in style as it continues to evolve. I love the vocal performance on this song. It brings a texture to the track that feels a lot like something one might expect from Renaissance. There are cool shifts and changes built into this thing. The violin brings a lot of magic to it all. There are some weird keyboard things that bring with them some space rock and early Pink Floyd reference points. A driving, rocking jam ensues around the three minute mark that is decidedly prog rock and very cool. Keyboards solo over the top in an almost ELP-like way. This extended instrumental movement continues to change and evolve. After a time the vocals return, bringing it back to the main song part.

Back Street Luv
I love the airy kind of mix on this cut. The track has a lot of energy. It's very psychedelic rock based, having some elements of Jefferson Airplane. Yet it's also decidedly progressive rock based. This is another exceptional cut on a disc with a lot of exceptional material. There are some cool twists and turns built into this number.
Jumbo
This starts mellower with a lot of symphonic instrumentation built into it. It's very much a classically based piece. It has a rather soaring progression to it despite the more sedate sounds. This isn't really a ballad because it's too complex and freeform to be that. There is a theatrical element at play in some ways, too.
You Know
Now, this comes in as a stark contrast to the previous tune. It's energetic and one of the hardest rocking cuts here. The guitar soloing is meaty and has some killer blues rock texture to it. The main song structure is fast paced and driving. While this is more of a straight-line arrangement than some of the others here, it still has some changes and turns.
Puppets
There is a bit of a playful little thing at the start. A percussive counting is heard and they seem to have a miss-start or two. Eventually it works to a psychedelically based cut that has a lot of piano as the main accompaniment for the vocals. This gets more involved and built up, but carries on as a seemingly freeform jam that's quite cool.
Everdance
Fast paced and rocking, I love the violin on this, but the keyboards add a lot, too. This has so much energy and really is a tasty number. It's one of my favorites here. It shifts through all kinds of changes and has some dramatically intense movements.
Bright Summer's Day '68
Classical music and rock collide on the introduction to this. The cut drives forward with some killer psychedelically tinged prog. This gets pretty hard rocking and a bit crazed at times. The guitar solo has a seriously tasty and noisy rock and roll sound to it.
Piece of Mind
This opens with a jazzy proggy sound that feels like it might have been part of the soundtrack to a film, for a particularly dramatic scene. There are some more mysterious bits that join after a time. Then again this cut is about 13 minutes long, so there is plenty of space for exploration and variety. The vocals come in over the top of this dramatic, driving section. It all continues to grow within that basic structure. There is a section that feels a bit like a resolution before they take it out to some mildly unsettling psychedelia. It starts speeding up and intensifying before firing out into a new prog jam that's fast paced and powerful. There is some intense jamming as it builds to a climax around the three-minute mark. Piano takes over from there with strings joining after a time. The cut turns toward some decidedly classical music as it continues to evolve. Eventually more driving progressive rock textures take over to herald the return of the vocals. It drives onward to around the half-way mark and then shifts to some melodic and exploratory instrumental work to continue. As that gets quite intense, Sonja Kristina joins with a spoken poetry recitation over the top. This just keeps driving onward and upward, and the vocals shift to sung ones again. A weird interlude is heard around the nine and a half minute mark, and the cut explodes out into a powerhouse ELP-like jam from there. There are some weird psychedelic elements in the mix, but overall this section really feels like that other act. Then it reaches a peak, and they drop down to a mellower slow psychedelic section with some cool synthesizer over the top. That section takes the song (and album proper) to its close.
CD Three: Phantasmagoria
                
Marie Antoinette

A pretty mid-tempo melody opens this with a tasty texture. There is psychedelia in the mix along with prog and even some jazz elements. The vocals rise up bringing more of that psychedelic thing, and the cut continues to evolve. The more rocking section later in the piece makes me think of a proggier Jefferson Airplane. There are some spacey, trippy elements that come over the top further down the road.

Melinda (More or Less)
Pretty and folk based, this one really does remind me of the balladic side of the Airplane. It's is such a cool folk prog song. Darryl Way's violin brings something special to this.
Not Quite The Same
A fast paced number, there is so much jazz and classical music built into this. It reminds me in a lot of ways of Renaissance, but merged with that Airplane element. There is a cool trippy break that has more Airplane thing, but also makes me think of Zappa just a bit.
Cheetah
Fast paced soaring prog is on the menu here. This is such a smoking hot tune with some killer jamming built into it. There are some unusual twists and turns here. This instrumental is a real powerhouse. It ends with a growl.
Ultra-Vivaldi
Synthesizer plays Vivaldi here. That makes up this instrumental. It's a cool cut with some sped up stuff as it moves forward.
Phantasmagoria
Jazz, psychedelia and powerhouse fast paced progressive rock is on order here. It's such a great song. That means it was a great choice for title track.
Whose Shoulder Are You Looking Over Anyway?
Weird, trippy sound effects and synthesized spoken voices and more create this track. It's freaky and so cool. It's a real psychedelic freak out. It serves as the introduction to the next number.
Over And Above
Coming out of the previous piece, this works to a powerhouse symphonic prog jam that's so cool. Again I'm reminded just a bit of Renaissance at times. There are some pretty amazing changes and instrumental moments here. At times this leans toward jazz. At other points, classical music seems to drive it. Then other things take us into psychedelic prog. Whatever you call it, though, this shifts and turns and has such powerful music at its core. It's definitely a highlight of the set.
Once A Ghost, Always A Ghost

Speaking of jazz, there is a lot of that built into this fast paced cut. It has some killer psychedelia built into it, too. There is a playful festival kind of vibe at play, as well. The recording on this seems a little muddy. That's my only complaint. It's a fun little number that works well.

Bonus Track:
                      
Sarah's Concern

Starting with a scream, this powers out into some smoking hot psychedelic rock based prog. This is fast paced and rocking. It turns toward more standard progressive rock as it continues. This one also suffers a bit from sound quality issues, too.

CD Four: Air Cut
                     
The Purple Speed Queen

Coming in with a mainstream rock meets psychedelic vibe, this is a killer number. It's pretty catchy and has some interesting shifts and changes. I love both the keyboard and guitar solos.

Elfin Boy
Starting acapella, after a time acoustic guitar joins to carry the folk music stylings that the voice brought into being. As it works forward from there some psychedelic elements are heard over the top of this structure, but only subtly. The psychedelia rises later to a more prominent position as the cut works forward.
Metamorphosis
A classical piano solo leads this track into being. After a time other instruments join, and the cut begins to drive forward in a more standard prog rock way. This has some seriously rocking stuff built into it. At over ten and a half minutes of music, this is the epic of the disc. It's about two minutes in before the vocals join. As they do the cut feels a bit like Renaissance. This cut continues to shift and turn as it makes its way forward. After the three minute mark it drops to another piano solo. The turn works to more of a mellow psychedelic prog arrangement from there. The vocals return in a dreamy kind of way. After the vocals drop away, they start to gradually turn this to more rocking territory, building steadily upward. It shifts directions a bit later to a dramatic building section to carry it forward. It explodes into another fast paced jam, eventually make it back to the Renaissance like section. A cool prog jam takes it to the end.
World
Bouncy folk meets world and psychedelia sounds are at the heart of this number. It's a definite change and a lot of fun. The violin adds a lot to it.
Armin
A dramatic synthesizer texture starts this. It fires out from there to a killer jam with some smoking hot violin. A cool guitar riff joins to move things forward. There is definitely a Celtic angle to this, but it's a hard rocking jam. The rhythm section brings a bit of fusion. This is a hard rocking, frantically driving piece that just plain rocks. This instrumental is just so cool.
U.H.F.
Much more of a straight-ahead rocker, this still has some cool shifts and twists. There are definitely hints of Led Zeppelin on this, but the cut also works more into pure psychedelia and fusion at times. It's a powerhouse with some exceptional instrumental work. As it approaches the minute and half mark the sound fades away, leaving just the piano to continue. It works out from there into more rocking sounds again, this time with more of a melodic vibe. Eventually it shifts to a dramatic prog building mode to continue. They finally make their way back to the first section of the track for the next vocals.
Two Three Two
This is an oddity in that it has male vocals from Mike Wedgwood, who also wrote the piece. It's a bit more of a straightforward rocker, but there are enough prog elements to keep things interesting. I love the bass work on this, but then again Wedgwood is the bass player, so one might expect a prominent bass line on his contribution. This thing is a real powerhouse.
Easy
Mixing a real hard rocking crunch with a powerful psychedelic rock vibe and some prog changes, this is another killer tune. I really love the instrumental section and guitar solo that is built into it later. The whole tune is high energy and so cool. The mellower dropped back instrumental section later is a cool touch, too. It brings the real progressive rock changes and jamming.
You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
Return
 
Google

   Creative Commons License
   This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    © 2021 Music Street Journal                                                                           Site design and programming by Studio Fyra, Inc./Beetcafe.com