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Rare Bird

Beautiful Scarlet: Recordings 1969-1975

Review by Gary Hill

Before I got this set Rare Bird was an early prog band that I had heard of, but never actually heard. This classy six-CD box set gathers up their entire catalog in one handy collection. One of the things I like about sets like this is that it gives you the opportunity to really hear how a band's sound progressed over the course of their releases.

Rare Bird started as a band that was organ heavy, and produced a sound that was probably equal parts psychedelia and proto-prog. As time went on they became more mature in their songwriting. They went through phases that called to mind acts from Procol Harum to Nektar and more. The guitar gradually became the more prevalent instrument. Their sound became more polished and more mainstream. Eventually they resembled acts like Traffic more than pure prog.

All the music they produced is effective and well worth listening to even today. This set includes each disc in a cardboard album cover sleeve (some gatefold). It also includes a poster and booklet. The package is so nice that I have done one our MSJ bonus videos showcasing it. This is a great way to learn about a intriguing prog band from the UK with just one purchase.

You will find bonus video footage of this release available at the Music Street Journal Youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sukSUolaTu8

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2021  Volume 4. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2021.

Track by Track Review
CD One
                  
Rare Bird
                          
Iceberg

A keyboard dominated arrangement brings this in with a sound that makes me think of Procol Harum. The number gradually grows upward as the introduction plays through. It drops down for a short interlude, then the band launch out into a powerhouse old-school prog jam that is so tasty. There are definitely valid comparisons to be made to ELP. That part winds through, and they drop back to a mellower, psychedelically tinged movement for the entrance of the vocals. As it fires outward again this definitely retains a lot of that psychedelia, but with a proggy edge. I can almost hear some hints of Iron Butterfly on this. An instrumental section takes us through some twists and turns while revisiting other parts of the number.

Times
More of an up-tempo rocker, this is less proggy than the opener was as it gets going. After a time it stretches out into proggier jamming. The extended instrumental movement is great.
You Went Away
Psychedelia is blended with proto prog in a cool song that has a great dynamic range with its balance between mellower and more rocking stuff. I'm reminded a bit of Vanilla Fudge on this piece. There is a drum solo at the end of this tune.
Melanie
While there are proggy aspects of it, the opening of this is more pure psychedelic rock of the pop-oriented type. This song really reminds me a lot of early Yes as it gets going. That sort of psychedelic prog vibe is in place and some of the guitar work feels like something Peter Banks might have done in those days.
Beautiful Scarlet
The percussion is a big part of the fast paced opening movement here. The psychedelic edge is all over this track. Yet the instrumental section takes it into more prog-based zones.
Sympathy
This has a very psychedelic sound to it. It's a slow-moving, organ-dominated tune.
Nature's Fruit
A faster paced tune, this has more of that psychedelic edge. It's a bit more of a straight rocker.
Bird on a Wing
I dig the early prog groove on this tune. There is a playful kind of dreamy element here. It turns to a powerhouse screamer mid-track before working back out to the more melodic to end.
God of War
Dramatic percussion is on the menu at the start of this. As this drives outward from there the drama is not only retained, but actually intensified. There is a lot of psychedelia here, but also a lot of freaky proto-prog. This song gets quite powerful at times.
Bonus Tracks:
                     
A & B sides of single released as Charisma CB 120 in January 1970
                 
Devil's High Concern

I love the killer first instrumental break on this screaming hot tune. The number is another that merges psychedelic and prog tendencies, but that break, with its ELP-like sounds, is full on progressive rock. The second break has plenty of prog in the mix, but leans more on the psychedelic side of the equation.

Sympathy (mono single version)
This is slightly shorter than the album version. Beyond that, it's what you'd expect. The mix does feel a bit vocal heavy compared the album mix, though. I think that the track is more effective in this form.
CD Two
                 
As Your Mind Flies By
                            
What You Want to Know

This feels more mature than the music on the first disc, but there is no question that it's the same group. The mix of psychedelia and early prog is still firmly in place. The instrumental break on this number is crazed and tastefully weird.

Down on the Floor
Mellower and rather bouncy, this is an intriguing cut. It's less direct, but really has some great melodies and textures. I love the harpsichord on the piece. That section takes us to bygone eras.
Hammerhead
Dense keyboard textures bring this into being. They launch out into a rocking jam from there that has both pure progressive rock and lots of Iron Butterfly reference. This is quite a dynamic and powerful piece of music. At times the vocals on this make me think of Ozzy's on early Sabbath.
I'm Thinking
A dense and dramatic keyboard arrangement brings this into being. The transition to full prog is nearly completely, but this does still have some hints of psychedelia. I'm reminded to a large degree of both Wishbone Ash and ELP on this.
Flight
At nearly twenty minutes of music, this is a multi-part epic suite. It starts with a fast paced introduction that is rocking in a prog way. There are drops to more psychedelic mellower sections as it continues, but they are punctuated by a return to this introductory segment. This cut reminds me quite a bit of Nektar. It has a great balance between more rocking and somewhat mellower movements. The number evolves and grows in style. There are some particularly powerful moments with dramatic chorale vocals heard at times. The mellower keyboard laden section mid-track brings it into some mysterious yet sedate territory. As it gets noisier from there, this gets even stranger and rather spacey. A more mainstream rocking section is heard further down the road for the next vocal movement. A section that calls to mind Holst's "Mars" comes in for the next instrumental section. They eventually take it out to more driving, rocking zones from there. That movement takes it to its end.
Bonus Tracks:
                
What You Want to Know (mono single version)
               
A-side of single released as Charisma CB 138 released in November 1970

Truth in advertising, this is an alternate cut of the earlier tune. I think I prefer the sound of the album cut to this one.

Hammerhead (mono single version)
      
B-side of single released as Charisma CB 138 released in November 1970
Now, I think I like this version better than the album take. It has a real driving and insistent vibe to it. There is still a healthy helping of psychedelia in the mix here,
Red Man (1971 version)
              
Recorded at Central Sound Studios London in 1971

The melodic progressive rock arrangement on this is so classy. The song is catchy, but also meaty.

CD Three
                
Epic Forest
               
Baby Listen

The maturation of the music is obvious immediately here. This is more of a classic prog tune. It's of the guitar dominated variety. It's another that calls to mind Nektar to some degree. There is some scorching hot guitar work on this number.

Hey Man
The mellow opening movement here brings some psychedelia along with a big helping of folk music. As the track electrifies after the first vocal section, it takes on more of a mainstream rock sound. This is not the proggiest thing here, but it is a great tune. The instrumental movement late in the track does drive toward the prog end of the spectrum at times. There are some dramatic rather soaring moments when the vocals return to finish things.
House in the City
I like the almost jazzy groove of this song quite a bit. There is an accessible feeling to it. I'm reminded a little of acts ranging from Steely Dan to America and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Epic Forest
The title track is more purely prog oriented. It has some great shifts and turns. It's a rather powerhouse tune. I love the vocal arrangement on this. The whole song really works well. There are some pretty awesome guitar breaks on this. I'm again reminded a little of Peter Banks on some of the guitar parts. This cut is suitably an epic piece, running more than nine-minutes. I really love the satisfying resolution that the closing melodic section brings to the piece.
Turning the Lights Out
The guitar sound and riffing that gradually rises up as this gets underway again makes me think of Nektar. In fact, the whole tune has some of that angle to it.
Her Darkest Hour
A dramatic and evocative cut, this is a prog ballad that is very classy. It is powerful.
Fears of the Night
Even more dramatic and potent than the previous cut, this is another that has a lot of balladic texture to it. It starts mellower, but builds out as a proggy power ballad sort of piece. It does drive out into some rather rocking zones before it's over and done.
Turn It All Around
This starts more along the lines of melodic prog, but perhaps not ballad-like as the last couple numbers were. It really has some soaring qualities. This is full on guitar-based prog. It is another that makes me think of Nektar to some degree. The more rocking zones of this are so cool.
Title No. 1 Again
A fast-paced number, there is a lot of jazz and progressive rock in the mix on this number. This is classic prog. I really enjoy some of the melodic guitar work in particular. Around the two minute mark it explodes outward. I seem to keep mentioning Peter Banks, but this makes me think of his post-Yes band Flash to a large degree. This is potent prog with a lot of style and charm. The extensive instrumental movement here really does work toward fusion in a lot of ways.
Bonus Tracks:
                       
Included on limited edition 7-inch single given with first edition of the album
                
Roadside Welcome

Keyboards bring this in with a cool groove. There is a soulful kind of feeling to the track. This is another that makes me think of both Crosby, Stills and Nash and America.

Four Grey Walls
This is a hard rocking groove that works so well. It's not the proggiest bit of music here, landing more toward mainstream hard rock, but it's so good that it doesn't matter. I love the keyboard soloing on this tune. That's where the prog really shines.
You're Lost

At over ten minutes of music, this is another epic piece It comes in with a tasty soulful groove. The tune works out to an expansive and exploratory prog rock meets fusion jam. There is some killer expressive guitar soloing in the mix. It gets soaring and so powerful as it continues. The piano gets a chance to take command of the soloing further down the road, too. The whole things ends abruptly with a bit of laughter.

CD Four
                           
Somebody's Watching
                   
Somebody's Watching

The tasty rocking groove that brings this in has some Traffic along with Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder in the mix. It has a real R&B rock vibe to it. The keyboard solo on this is so classy. The cut works out into some seriously funky zones at times, too.

Third Time Around
More of a straight-ahead rocker, this is a strong tune. It's just not a particularly proggy cut. There is an extensive instrumental section, that I suppose could qualify as proggy, but it's actually more along the lines of jam band music. It does have a prog-like ascending movement later in that section, though. That prog thing serves as the closing to the cut.
Turn Your Head
I'm definitely reminded of Traffic as this number gets underway. It's more of a mainstream rock tune and a bit less prog-oriented. Whatever you call it, though, it's a strong rocker. There is a space-oriented, soaring proggy break later in the track, though.
More and More
This has a great soulful groove to it. Again Traffic is a valid reference point. I love the keyboard soloing on the number, but the whole thing is tasty. There is a real funky edge to this one that serves it well.
Hard Time
A slower tune this is more reflective. It does manage to rock out more at times, though. That Traffic reference point is in force here. There is some cool jamming in the number, and it's particularly well written and performed.
Who is the Hero
Starting in a balladic approach, this cut has more of a prog concept at play. It grows gradually. It's a powerful and evocative piece. This has a more dominant keyboard vibe to it. It feels more like the band's earlier music than the previous songs on this disc have. I'm reminded more than a little of Procol Harum on this number.
High in the Morning
A melodic rocker, this is more of a mainstream tune rather than progressive rock. There are definitely some hints of the psychedelic pop rock of the 1970s here.
Dollars
This is a brief piano based instrumental that serves as an introduction to the next cut. .
A Few Dollars More
This fires out from the previous tune into more mainstream rocking zones from there. This cut works out into proggier, but harder rocking zones as it continues. This definitely feels more like the band's earlier works. While it's decidedly prog rock based, there is a definite Allman Brothers vibe here, along with leanings toward things like Captain Beyond. It's a powerful instrumental that is arguably the highlight of this CD of the set. 
Bonus Tracks:
       
A & B sides of single released as Polydor 2058 402 in September 1973
            
Virginia

This has a real mainstream rock sound to it. There are some hints of Southern rock built into it. There are also some tasty hints of progginess at points. This is a fun tune that really does seem like the kind of thing that makes a good single.

Lonely Street
A mellower number, this has a lot charm and class. It's an evocative piece of music.
CD Five
                
Born Again
                    
Body and Soul

The prog is pretty much MIA on this number. It's a bouncy kind of mainstream rock groove. I like it, but it's kind of generic.

Live for Each Other
An energetic rocker, this is also pretty mainstream. It has a great energy and vibe. While also rather generic, this tune is more effective.
Diamonds
Now there are some proggier things at play here. Overall this is a funky, soulful kind of mainstream rock groove, though. It's a lot of fun.
Reaching You
This pop rock groove makes me think of Paul Carrack's old band Ace. This is definitely a 1970s rocker that should have been on the charts. It has some drama and pop and plenty of hooks. There are some hints of prog brought in by the keyboards.
All That I Need
Another set in that mainstream, rather generic pop rock school of music, this really doesn't stand out. It's not a bad tune at all. It's just nothing special. Well, it does have one thing special, the proggy keyboard solo.
Redman
Now, this is a stronger cut. There are definitely proggy angles to the number. We heard a different version of this as a bonus track a couple discs ago. This is dramatic and powerful. It's one of the highlights of the fifth disc.
Peace of Mind
We get a lot more proggy edge here, too. This number really makes me think of Procol Harum in a lot of ways. It's a folk rocker at its core, but it's elevated with the prog leanings. The cut is another highlight of this CD of the set.
Harlem
This is another tune that really makes me think of Traffic. While not all that prog-oriented, it's a great song with a lot of magic in it.
Lonely Street
We heard a version of this as one of the bonus tracks on the last disc. I think I prefer that version to this one. It has a cooler mood to it. That said, this is still strong. It does have some proggy tendencies. The vocal arrangement is classy. This is trademark 1970s pop rock.
Last Tango in Beulah
Another that's more proggy, this tune is a lot of fun. It has plenty of classical music in the mix, but all delivered in a rather playful rocking arrangement that feels a bit like Procol Harum. The closing movement is so powerful and proggy in its building arrangement.
Bonus Tracks:
                          
Don't Be Afraid

Funk and soulful grooves are on the menu here. This has a classic 70s pop rock feeling to it. I dig the guitar solo on this tune, but then again everything about the tune works well. There is even a bit of a disco vibe to it, but that would be proto-disco because there was no such thing at that time.

Passin' Through
The song starts with a keyboard-based arrangement. Vocals come in over that backdrop as it begins to evolve. There is some seriously classy keyboard soloing and play later in this number. This one definitely lands on the prog end of the spectrum. I like this as well as anything on this fifth disc, really.
CD Six
                  

 

Live at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London
                 
30th June 1974
                    
Somebody's Watching

This rocker gets a classy live telling. The weird groove breaks are so cool here. This tune really seems to gain some magic in live performance. The jam later works so well.

Third Time Around
A fast-paced hard rocking groove brings this number into being. It's another entertaining live rocker.
Hard Time
This hard rocker is a solid tune. The live performance definitely has some Southern jam band vibes going on.
All That I Need
A cool rock groove is on the menu here. This live tune works well with a mainstream texture. The keyboard soloing on this is very prog oriented and also quite tasty.
Lonely Street
I think I like this live take of the song better than either of the studio recordings. It seems to gain some real charm. In terms of style, it seems to fall somewhere between the other two. It's definitely one of the mellower pieces on this live disc.
Live For Each Other
A bouncy kind of mainstream rock number, this works pretty well, but isn't all that special.
Last Tango in Beulah
This bouncy tune works well in live  performance. It's one of the proggier pieces of the live album. The first instrumental movement is keyboard heavy and classy. The second turns into a really powerhouse jam.
Dollars
This should actually be titled "A Few Dollars More," at least based on the titling on the studio album. This killer instrumental jam is the highlight of the live disc. It's also the most decidedly prog thing here. It is definitely a great way to end things.
 
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