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Big Big Train - Grimspound CD (album) cover

GRIMSPOUND

Big Big Train

 

Crossover Prog

3.98 | 366 ratings

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BrufordFreak
4 stars This band of seasoned veterans has morphed and gelled into a cohesive unit whose compositions set the standard for other symphonic prog bands of this decade.

1. "Brave Captain" (12:37) In my humble opinion, this is one of the best songs BBT has ever done. Where so many times before the music and the story the band is trying to tell feel over-the-top bombastic (for reasons that seem to often escape me), this time everything seems to click. Dave's vocal rendering of the story is nicely restrained. The amazingly evocative section starting at 4:12 is prog perfection. All instrumental contributions are so perfect, Nick D'Virgilo's drumming never more virtuosic and necessary. At 7:20 a mute-effected vocal begins the rendering of the flyer's story. It's so effective that I get goosebumps and tears brimming at my eyes every damn time I listen to it. And when Dave switches out of the closet into the open air to describe the last flight! Amazing! Genius! The instrumental play out with the single phrase "brave captain of the skies" being repeated by both Dave and a choir is perfect (as is the atmospheric "air" sounds as the song fades). (9.75/10)

2. "On The Racing Line" (5:12) organ, piano, bowed double bass open this one before the band breaks into a jazzy-boogie piano-based Nick D'Virgilio instrumental race. This song definitely serves to showcase Nick's amazing drumming: so tight, so concise, so well-integrated into the song--despite its many dynamic and tempo shifts. Great use of strings in support at the end. (9.25/10)

3. "Experimental Gentlemen" (10:01) parts of this song, both melodically and instrumentally, shine as among the best work BBT have ever done. The unfortunate thing is the sometimes awkward, disjointed and inexplicable shifts from section to section (e.g. from the amazing opening/intro to the simplistic singing section at the two minute mark--if there was ever a case to cite an instance in which two entirely separate songs are suddenly and inexplicably melded together, this is one). Fortunately, the melodies and lyrics of the first singing section are engaging. In the fifth minute, the vocals take a break and we settling into a section of very nice instrumental tapestry. But, then, suddenly, at 5:34, we're back to the "experimental gentlemen" vocal theme. The song is playing out like a Broadway reprise--like the introductory music you receive when returning from a musical play's intermission. "The wonder of it all" is a wonderful epithet signaling another switch--to a soft, gentle, and very moving instrumental section which plays out to the song's end. (9/10)

4. "Meadowland" (3:36) with it's 12-string guitar and violin, this one opens quite nicely. Shaping up to be a little more folk-country oriented than I expected, the song continues as an instrumental until the 1:18 mark. Dave's AMERICA-like vocal enters with the strings continuing to weave around behind him sans drums (with organ--and, later, piano). Nice, mellow song. (8/10)

5. "Grimspound" (6:56) a beautiful folky song with wonderfully simple and catchy melodies from both instruments, chords, and vocal lines. I love Dave's voice so much when he is restrained and relaxed. And I LOVE his flute work. At 3:35 the band decided that a little more umph! and bombast were needed. Too bad. What should have been left alone... Nice work from the strings (electric and otherwise) in sixth minute. I do love the choral singings of the Latin phrases at the end. (9.5/10)

6. "The Ivy Gate" (7:27) banjo is the most conspicuous instrumental presence with this one from its opening--until the warbling voice of the great Judy Dyble opens the singing telling the tale of Thomas Fisher. Constructed with ample variety and dynamics, no section, no lyric, no melody sucks me in enough to warrant repetition or research. This is a good song with just average appeal and engagement factor. (8/10)

7. "A Mead Hall In Winter" (15:20) with some very nice instrumental work--especially from the organ--and some awesome multi-voice background vocal arrangements. Again, the melodic lines employed here are simply not as engaging as the instrumental solos are impressive. (8.5/10)

8. "As The Crow Flies" (6:44) very nice, spacious song with the delightful presence of a female vocalist (Rachel Hall) singing the second lead. Flutes, piano, violin, acoustic guitars, organ, all are given ample room to be heard on this one--which is nice. (8.5/10)

Big Big Train certainly have their own style and distinctive sound. They are very polished, very skilled musicians, and their compositional skills and instrumental arrangements are of the highest quality and grade while their sonic renderings of music are always just shy of miraculous. Where they seem to fall a little short--at least, to these ears--is in matching their music to the story that they are trying to tell (or, perhaps better put, in matching their musical expression to the significance of the historical text of their chosen "heroes"). The conundrum they present to me time after time reminds me of the story I've heard so many times about the reactions of Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins, and Steve Hackett to first hearing the vocal story telling that Peter Gabriel had recorded over their music for The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.

BrufordFreak | 4/5 |

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