AIR - LIVE ATMOSPHERE
Curved Air Records
have to give it to Curved Air for persistence – they've
been knocking our their own brand of prog rock, on and off, since
1970, albeit with large breaks and changing line-ups along the
way. For a band who are possibly best known outside prog circles
for having released the first commercial picture disc (back in
1970!) and who I will happily admit to having only heard one track
by before, it shows a certain dedication, and the band has, it
seems, a small but dedicated following that allows them to keep
Still fronted by Sonja Kristina (a rare female presence in a very
male genre), the band certainly haven't compromised their prog
sound, if this live recording from their 2010/11 tour is anything
to go by. While I'd been expecting the band to come from the folkier
side of the progressive scene, but despite the presence of violins,
this is very much on the heavier side for the most part. And for
the most part, it's a solid recording, with exemplary performances
from the band (as you might expect – there's no room for
sloppy musicianship in a prog band!). A spot of research confirms
that Kristina's voice has, inevitably, taken a deeper tone in
the last 40 years, but she's still capable of hitting the high
notes and soaring out when needed.
Consisting mainly of tracks from the first three albums, the best
stuff here is album opener Marie Antoinette,
the folky Melinda – a nice respite
from the sound and fury – and hit single Back
Street Luv, a genuinely funky, groovy number that
I suspect will be immediately recognisable for most listeners,
no matter now unfamiliar they are with the band and here fleshed
out with guitar solos that stay within the spirit of the song.
Similarly, Stretch has a decidedly Sixties
blues rock groove to it, and It Happened Today
is another catchy, epic and operatic number that is not a million
miles away from the female-fronted gothic metal acts of today.
These last three tracks ensure the album ends on a high point.
Other tracks are an acquired taste I imagine – like the
best (and worst) prog rock, the emphasis is on complexity rather
than catchiness, and the album might be a struggle at times for
non-fans – though of course, why anyone not into the band
would choose to start with a 2012 live release is anyone's guess.
I can confidently say that back in my days of gobbling up prog
albums incessantly, this would've more than satisfied my appetite.
I do think this sort of thing probably works better as a live
spectacle than a recording listened to on a winter morning...
The album comes with a bonus DVD that is very much an add-on rather
than an equal part, featuring about 20 minutes of footage from
the tour. It's a nice sampler, and offers a bit of insight for
non-fans like myself, but might seem like a bit of a tease for
committed fans. I'm assuming that a full DVD will be forthcoming
(if not already out).
I always felt that prog represented both the best and the worst
of the 1970s, often at the same time – the ambition, the
disregard for pop music restrictions, the bloody-mindedness, the
self-indulgence and the pretensions both appealed and appalled.
Curved Air, on this album, manage to avoid the latter excesses
for the most part (if the band ever recorded anything as utterly
ghastly as Tales from Topographic Oceans, there's
no evidence of it here!) and if nothing else, this album has made
me note them down in my 'to investigate further' list.
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