By the early 1970s Curved Air had achieved success with the release of their first three studio albums (Air Conditioning, Second Album, and Phantasmagoria). This was further supported by touring with artists such as Black Sabbath, B.B. King, Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, The Who, and Procol Harum, to name but a few. They toured widely in the U.K. and twice to the States between 1971 and 1972.
By the time work got underway on their third release, Phantasmagoria, there were continuing musical differences between Francis Monkman and Darryl Way, which had started back on the Second Album. By the end of 1972 Phantasmagoria went to number 20 in the U.K. charts, however Darryl Way had formed his own band, Darryl Way’s Wolf, and Francis Monkman went to work with Al Stewart on his fifth studio album, Past, Present And Future, and Lynsey de Paul’s debut album, Surprise, in 1973.
The only remaining members left in Curved Air during that time were Sonja Kristina and bassist Mike Wedgwood, who decided on a new line-up which featured Kirby Gregory (guitar), Jim Russell (drums) and the debut of a pre-Roxy Music Eddie Jobson (keyboards & violin). The fourth studio album, Air Cut, originally released in early 1973 on the Warner Brothers’ label and now reissued by Esoteric Recordings, showed a departure from their classical sound into a more rock direction.
Recorded between January and February of 1973 at Advision Studios in London, Air Cut showed both the band’s progressive and folky elements. You have the Gothic yet touchingly gentle acoustic nod to Jim Croce with Elfin Boy, Sonja singing alone for the first 23 seconds, before a sound reminiscent to Time In A Bottle with Sonja playing acoustic guitar as if she’s walking through the forest, followed by Eddie’s VCS3 synth and harpsichord to bring the chilling and spooky vibes – as if a pin has suddenly dropped at the right moment.
The 10-minute epic of Metamorphosis begins with Eddie’s piano concerto, done in the style of Renaissance’s Prologue-era, before marching rhythms and Wedgwood’s bass come forth for the new generation bringing peace and hope into the land. Jobson goes through various sections between the organ and VCS3, as if he’s floating high up into the heavens, moving smoothly from grand piano to Mellotron.
Mike and Sonja share a vocal together in the second verse, in a whispering tone on the subject of dreams, before Eddie comes back in for another march, dramatically reaching for higher ground, and then at last Kirby shares some incredibly uplifting guitar moments, it all heading back into the marching beat again to close out.
Eddie goes for a bit of ragtime piano near the end of the epic, while having some fun by paying homage to Procol Harum’s Good Captain Clack on the short composition, World. It has a down-home country rhythm, but with a show dance song feel to it, as if Sonja is dancing to Jobson’s improvisation as he follows her melodic vocals to keep the pace.
The Purple Speed Queen is an adventure that kicks the album off; the rocket-ship is ready for lift-off. Kirby’s guitar delves into Grand Funk Railroad’s Closer To Home-era riffs before Jobson’s organ and Russell’s drums get the engines rolling. The lyrics tell the story of the rise and fall of a star that achieved success, but pays the price at the end. In the characterisation of Emlee Jane, there’s a small nod, in my opinion, to the life of Janis Joplin, her rise and fall via drug overdose. I love how Jobson’s synth goes into overdrive as Kirby, Mike, and Jim follow in pursuit. Gregory’s guitar work sets the return course with some killer improvisation before the band head back home to Earth.
With U.H.F. I felt a little tug to a pre-Dreamboat Annie era as Curved Air delve into hard rock styles thanks to Kirby’s riffs in the first couple of minutes, changing into a beautiful piano and Mellotron epic, as if the listener has opened the door into another universe. The increasing vibrations take you upwards to the skies, Jobson following them and then back into the pre-Heart beginnings.
The closing track, Easy deals with a young boy’s nightmare, as if Sonja is the mother comforting her son through the bad dreams he’s having. There’s also a nod to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland as Mike sings the fifth verse about being in the honeycomb of many lives. It’s an incredibly haunting piece that brings to mind of Elton John’s Madman Across The Water. Kirby is channelling the style of Mick Ronson while the vocalisations between Sonja, Kirby, and Mike bring the young man out of his nightmare, going into a progressive style walking jazz rhythm, a-la Thelonious Monk meets Jethro Tull, and then a shrieking VCS3 comes out of the blue.
When the album was released in the spring of 1973 it didn’t do well. The band split up as Eddie Jobson replaced Brian Eno in Roxy Music, Kirby and Elmer Gantry formed Stretch, and Mike Wedgwood joined Kiki Dee’s backing band with Elton John for their Goodbye Yellow Brick Road tour and joining Caravan from 1974 to 1976. Air Cut was far ahead of its time, and despite the new line-up which brought in the likes of Eddie Jobson, it’s an underachievement.
The 24-page booklet contains liner notes by Malcolm Dome, interviews with Sonja Kristina and Mike Wedgwood, newspaper articles, dark photos of the band performing in concert, a promo poster of Air Cut, and a ticket of their performance at the Malvern Winter Gardens where they shared the bill with The Gary Moore Band and Sidewinder.
From the moment I put the album on I knew this was going to be one of my favourite Curved Air albums, up there with those first three from the original line-up. Esoteric have scored another home run with Curved Air’s fourth studio album.
01. The Purple Speed Queen (3:37)
02. Elfin Boy (4:13)
03. Metamorphosis (10:40)
04. World (1:39)
05. Armin (3:49)
06. U.H.F. (5:09)
07. Two Three Two (4:14)
08. Easy (6:42)
Total Time – 40:08
Sonja Kristina – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar (track 2)
Eddie Jobson – Keyboards, Electric Violin, Backing Vocals (track 6)
Kirby Gregory – Guitar, Vocals
Mike Wedgwood – Guitar, Bass (track 4), Backing Vocals (tracks 7 & 8)
Jim Russell – Drums
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue Number: PECLEC 2617
Date of Release: 26th January 2018