While Sonja Kristina is best known for her time in Curved Air – not least as one of a handful of pioneering female artists in the 1970s progressive rock scene – her solo career has yielded some exceptional music. It’s the product of a colourful life, which found her singing as a 13-year-old in local folk clubs of Essex, then in musicals, including a teenage turn in Hair. Concurrently, she spent time as a hippie boho hanging out with The Pink Fairies and The Deviants and later, as Curved Air underwent a break-up and renaissance, a spell as a bunny girl croupier at the Playboy Club. She enjoyed both punk and the neo-psychedelic Club Dog scene of the 1990s, when she was at the vanguard of the acid folk revival.
The story starts in the present with a nod to the beginning and a 2017 reading of Frank Mills from Hair. The other contemporary recording is a poignant cover, with acoustic guitar, accordion and harpsichord, of Greg Lake’s C’est La Vie prompted by an appearance at a recent tribute concert. There’salso a melancholic acoustic recasting of Motörhead’s I Don’t Believe A Word and a lavishly arranged version of Carl Orff’s O Fortuna with Air compadre Darryl Way.
But Kristina’s original full band material really stands out. It’s eclectic in its arrangements, but carries a strong melodic signature and an incisive style of lyric writing. Baby Song begins as a mother’s paean to her offspring before acknowledging their inevitable disillusionment with life, then veering of into an exultant instrumental dance with hints of African highlife.
A lot of the material has a folkish tinge with Paul Sax’s outstanding violin playing featuring on a number of selections, and merging with the gleaming synths and multiple vocal harmonies on the sinuous Angel. Kristina drolly embraces the dark side on the fiddle-fuelled hellish hoedown of Devil May Care, then dispenses some pithy advice to the song’s wayward protagonist on Anna.