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Big Big Train - The Second Brightest Star CD (album) cover


Big Big Train


Crossover Prog

3.75 | 261 ratings

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4 stars I actually like this more than Grimspound. I consider the versions of the songs London Plane and Brooklands what they *should* have released on Folklore. So the redone songs don't bother me near as much as hearing the tracks "in full" (as I consider them). And quite enjoyable. A lot of kudos were lobbed at Plane when Folklore came out, but I never saw much in it, Brooklands having always been my favorite prog epic on that album--but given the versions on this release I could easily ash can the Folklore versions and just play the ones here. It's a pleasure to hear more development in these songs.

But, the main reason I prefer this to Grimspound, as many times as I've listened to the latter, I can't remember much clear *division* in the album--other than Brave Captain. Meanwhile, with fewer listens to this release, I can crisply remember the differences between the title song, Leaden Stour, and The Passing Widow. Also, it doesn't wear out its welcome with the "Aren't we artists special" self-indulgence that Grimspound seems to suffer from. Although a huge BBT fan back with Gathering Steam, I could not write a review of that release is I still don't know what it exactly is. Interesting music? No doubt. A pleasure to listen to? Yeah, outside of the air of self-congratulation I mentioned before.

Anyway, I can unabashedly say that I consider this release to be the superior release this year, even with the sort of utility drawer and re-release feel of Star. The title song and Leaden Stour are standouts, and have stuck in my head much quicker than anything from Grimspound. The title song is a an orchestrated ballad, with a slight torch song feel to the bass (Manners?), with segments of soft piano accompaniment to flute and violin, cascading to a Gregory solo accompanied by bright brass. Just a subtle and muted, smoothly flowing arrangement.

Haymaking is a song that moves them into a definitely thicker folk vein, a violin dance of sorts, joined in parts with the flute, and all grounded with a nice melodic bass line. Only broken up toward the end with an interlude of discord from synths, before ending with the spritely violin. Skylon, the third track moves back to the sort of smooth, torch song feel, which seems to suit Longdon's voice. This track moves to a minor key much quicker than the title track-- but still in my opinion differentiable from it. London Stone is an interesting acoustic instrumental, totally takes place between the piano and classical guitar (Sj÷blom?). Quite a nice contained piece. The Passing Widow goes back to the piano ballad, and is probably the most poppy song on the album. Well done and listenable, even if I can't say that I'm glad that it's on the release. (Who knows though. Telling the Bees was my least favorite on Folklore, but became a sing-along favorite). It also sounds like there's nary an electric instrument on it as well as the previous piece.

Leaden Stour carries much in the same vein, but it seems the guys knew that they couldn't do another pure piano ballad thing, so there some nice soft jazz guitar and a bass line behind this one. Plus it has a brass intro into their upbeat bridge, a sort of jazz ensemble feel to it. But what's really irresistible is the jazz outro 7 minutes into it.

And as I mentioned before Brooklands and London Plane redux will be the versions of these songs that I'll be playing hence forth.

If there's anything lacking in this release, to me it's what BBT has been increasingly lacking over time. Di Virgillio is from a band that was on Metal Blade records, one of Sj÷blom's last albums with Beardfish was pretty heavily rock, Spawton could blaze away on guitar on Difference Machine's Perfect Cosmic Storm and Pick up. I really like the sophisticated variations on pop of the ages these guys are putting out, but would it kill them to just rock out some time?

But one thing that's nice to hear on either albums this year is that they seem to have corrected the mistake on Folklore of burying D'Virgilio down in the mix.

axeman | 4/5 |


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