At the time, the transformation from R&B into hard rock and prog rock seemed seamless, swept along a current of subtly shifting styles, a view today cemented by hindsight into inevitability. But all one has to do is listen to bands that fell by the wayside to see that the end result was in no way insured, and that other paths beckoned, only to quickly become cul-de-sacs. Drummer Keef Hartley established his reputation upon joining British blues legends John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in 1967, performing on four of their albums before his departure the following year. That same year, Hartley formed his eponymous band around the axis of himself, bassist Gary Thain, and singer/guitarist/composer Miller Anderson, with their musical horizons widened by a kaleidoscope cast of brass, keyboardists, and flügelhorn players. The group released The Time Is Near..., its third album, in 1970, a set that found the group moving into ever more esoteric pastures. Some critics complained the album was directionless, but au contraire, the band knew precisely where they were going and what their goal was -- to create a tapestry of sound that intricately weaves together American R&B with a decided Stax slant, intertwining funkier flavors with the brass flash of the earlier soul era, and criss-crossing it with jazz. Some songs are embroidered with a harder rock sound, others are threaded with bright splashes of Latin colors, and others still with more subdued acoustic passages. It takes several listens for the full aural impact to coalesce, a reflection of the song's lack of infectious hooks and strong melodies, a sign too of the band's growing proggy bend and jazzy leanings. But given enough time, the album begins to weave its spell, and its greatness starts to solidify. However, as a path to chart success, this album was a dead-end street; pop fans want instant gratification, and Time Is Near wasn't supplying that. But for more discerning audiences, this CD is a welcome return for a carefully crafted and gorgeously imagined set.
AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene