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Big Big Train - Folklore CD (album) cover


Big Big Train


Crossover Prog

4.02 | 628 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Folklore is the ninth studio album released by BBT, and was an instant top five album for me in 2016. It develops the themes inherent in English Electric, particularly the second part, and sees, for me, the band developing very nicely into the natural successor to one of our finest, and best loved, pastoral progressive rock acts of the classic era.

What, another Genesis tribute allegation, you ask? No, not a bit of it. This band, not particularly in terms of approach, but most definitely in terms of their use of English lore and joyous storytelling of our heritage are, to me, the modern day Jethro Tull. Think of that band's wonderful folk rock period between Songs from the Wood and Broadsword...., transport it into the 21st century, and here we go. London Plane, with its tale of a boat squadron on course to Runnymede, could quite easily fit in on any one of those Tull masters. The chorus of this soars.

The album explodes into sound with the title track. Pure folk prog, with Longden's flute and Rachel Hall's exceptional violin playing right to the fore. The latter, to me, is a very welcome addition to this band. Her playing on this and the live set released on Stone and Steel are exceptional, and her backing to Longden's feeling lead vocals complement each other very well.

The band now boast eight members, living in disparate areas of not just the UK, but literally the world, with Rikard Sjoblom adding important textures on guitars and keyboards, and the drummer from America who I regard as being the finest modern exponent of the trade, Nick D'Virgilio. His work shines on this, and both also contribute backing vocals, making the band sound throughout as a vocal and instrumental symphony.

Along The Ridgeway uses both Hall's violin and the welcome return of the brass section to great effect. It segues effortlessly into Salisbury Giant, a huge figure which one adorned pageants in medieval Wiltshire, now housed in a museum there. These are gentle pieces, with intelligent use of orchestration creating a solemn, thoughtful, mood. Longden sings it beautifully. I fell in love with his voice on the wonderful Martin Orford swan song, The Old Road, and he is, to me, a world class vocalist.

Brass and violin also introduce us to the exceptional The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun. The lyrics, vocals, and music take me back many years to when I was a young man fascinated by the vastness of the visible night sky, and wondering just what it would be like to fly there, a la James T Kirk. You are taken to this place on the "so many words left unsaid" sequence, before Dave Gregory produces a scintillating guitar solo leading the entire outfit in a symphonic burst of pure noise. Quite lovely.

Wassail has attracted some criticism. It is beyond me why. When I first heard it on the EP release of the same name in 2015, I knew we were in for a real old treat with the forthcoming album. Whilst the accompanying video, costumes and all, might seem a tad corny, this is prog folk at its most powerful, with swirling keyboards and thunderous riffs, led by Spawton on bass and D'Virgilio on drums moving things along at a fair old pace. The story itself is of pagans travelling between houses and orchards wassailing, boozing to hearty effect on Wassail, a rather strong mulled cider.

There is one track on the album that I still struggle to "get", and that is Winkie. The story behind the song is straightforward enough, that of a World War Two flying hero. It is played well enough, with the drums especially moving things along swiftly, and Longden evokes true emotion in The North Sea passage when radio contact with the plane is lost. However, it is, to me, slightly too breathless and wordy at times to truly impress. Great in parts, but not as a whole.

The epic length track on the album, clocking in at 12.40 minutes, is Brooklands. This venue, of course, was the world's first motor racing circuit, and the track evokes all of the romance and thrill which that venue brought to the pioneers who raced there, the smells of the engines, and the crowds who followed the sometimes dangerous exploits of the participants. I love the thoughtful guitar lead, whilst D'Virgilio excels on a tuneful drum pattern, with Spawton producing a deep, growling, bass line. A great story and tribute to a time long passed away, this is intellectual prog folk at its peak. The section leading to the denouement has the entire band, keys, flute, violin, rhythm, guitar stretching themselves to the limit, before we come down to earth gently with a delicate vocal.

All which precedes, though, leads up to the biggest thrill, the final track, the sumptuous and beautiful Telling The Bees. I didn't think that the band could better Hedgerow, to me a highlight of prog rock in all the time I have listened to this great genre. This one does it, in spades. It plays to every strength this great band have. It aches with emotion, and has, at its heart, the memories of a loved father, honoured in old custom by telling the bees of a life and love. "The joy is in the telling", and the telling is a wonderful noise. This song evokes memories of loved ones no longer with me, and I sing it at the top of my voice, but with love and fond memories, not sadness, the way such fond memories are meant to be. This is a gloriously uplifting track, and yet another reminder of why this band are so special. Listen and let the emotion wash over you.

This is yet another fine release by a band who I hope will continue to carry the torch of quality English progressive rock for many years to come. Four stars, and simply excellent.

lazland | 4/5 |


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