Forming way back in 1970, Curved Air are one of the longest running bands of the early progressive rock scene. Though they were very active throughout the '70s, the group disbanded on numerous occasions, which is no doubt the reason that this latest album North Star is only the seventh studio release of their long career. This one features 7 new songs, 3 re-recordings of old classics, a few covers plus a Sonja Kristina solo tune. In the band presently are Kristina on vocals, guitarist Kirby Gregory, violinist Paul Sax, keyboard player Robert Norton, drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa, and bassist Chris Harris.
Three songs here originally appeared on their 1971 release titled Second Album; the gorgeous "Puppets", the intoxicating "Situations", as well as the dramatic cut "Young Mother". Sonja still sounds great today, her angelic vocals soaring over lush arrangements, with Norton's keyboard work and Sax's violin really adding beauty to these new renditions. "Stay Human" is an excellent new prog-rock track from the band, with some ripping guitar courtesy of Gregory, who also shines on the raging jazz-fusion sounds of "Time Games". Sax lays down some mournful violin next to Gregory's intricate guitar lines on the hard hitting "Images and Signs", while the majestic "Interplay" is a lovely little song highlighted by Kristina's ethereal vocals and layers of beautiful piano & violin. "Spider" is a harder rocking instrumental piece, not unlike classic Kansas thanks to its muscular guitar riffs, violin, and nimble keyboards. It really shows the musical talents of the band quite nicely, and will be a favorite of many fans for sure. Kristina's wispy vocals pairs up with alluring violin and sumptuous electric piano on the dreamy "Magnetism", and "Colder Than a Rose in Snow" sees the band interpret this melodic old pop/classical track from Kristina's 1980 self-titled solo album.
Curved Air's cover of The Police's "Spirits in the Material World", is intriguing, as it's given a space rock/prog/reggae treatment, and Sonja seems to have had a lot of fun with it. "Old Town News" is another new tune, and probably the least successful one of the bunch, more in a blues rock style that lacks the magical quality of some of the other new songs on the album. Ever hear of Snow Patrol? Well, me neither, but they are apparently an alternative band from Ireland/Scotland, and Curved Air have covered their song "Chasing Cars" here. As I haven't heard the original, I don't have a lot to compare it to, but this version is a pretty mellow affair, with Kristina's charming vocal drifting over piano and upright bass. The band also dive into the catalog of The Beatles as well, tackling "Across the Universe" in fine fashion, as Sonja grabs the listener with her angelic, alluring vocal delivery amidst swirling synths.
Though they've not treated us with a studio release in quite some time, Curved Air have made a triumphant return here with North Star. With a great variety of styles, textures, and moods, this one shows this latest incarnation of the band in fine form and ready to take their intriguing brand of progressive rock to new audiences around the world.
1) Stay Human
2) Time Games
4) Images and Signs
8) Colder Than a Rose in Snow
9) Spirits in the Material World
10) Old Town News
12) Chasing Cars
13) Young Mother
14) Across the Universe