Curved Air were one of the pioneer bands in the first wave of prog having released their cutting edge debut album Air Conditioning in 1970 and this being the first album ever to appear as a picture disc. With their classical leanings and prog's first siren, singer Sonja Kristina, they caused a real sensation with their colourful, violin-led psychedelic pallet of sound.
On North Star, only Kristina and drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa remain from the original line-up though new guitarist Kirby Gregory also appeared on their fourth album Air Cut (1973). This is their seventh studio album and contains the first original material since 1976. There is still a tremendous panache and energy to their music, which still retains that trippy style that veers between jazz, folk, classical and straight rock. Kristina's sultry voice is still a force of nature, blending beautifully with the instruments, especially the violin played by Paul Sax and Robert Norton's often delicate keyboards.
The new songs include the straight rocking opener Stay Human but the jazzy Time Games and modern-day love story Images and Signs show the creative well is still overflowing.
The instrumental Spider is tight and tantalising, each band member, including bassist Chris Harris and Pilkington-Miksa stepping up to the plate to take a lead role within it. Kristina 's tour de force is the haunting ballad Colder Than A Rose In Snow. Puppets, Situations and Young Mother are all from the first two albums, reworked but showing how well they still hold up after more than 40 years.There are also three cover songs, the Police's Spirits In A Material World, Snow Patrol's Chasing Cars and the Beatles' Across The Universe, all of which certainly add variety to the overall package.
As Curved Air was the first progressive band I ever got into, this album was much anticipated and it certainly delivers. They are a band which still hold a special place in the prog firmament and their unique blend of instrumentation still dazzles and delights. If you have never encountered them before, this is a very good place to start.
**** Alison Henderson
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