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Big Big Train - Grand Tour CD (album) cover

GRAND TOUR

Big Big Train

 

Crossover Prog

4.21 | 105 ratings

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TCat
Prog Reviewer
4 stars The band "Big Big Train" has been around for quite a while, has gone through a lot of line-ups, and is quite well known world wide as one of the most famous crossover prog band around. Greg Spawton (bass, guitars, keyboards) and Andy Poole were the co-founders of the band that started (officially) in 1990. Both members would remain with the band until 2018, when Andy departed from the group, leaving Spawton the only original member remaining.

In May of 2019, the band released their 12th full length album called "Grand Tour". This album consists of all original music, where their previous album contained re-worked songs from previous albums. Even though the title "Grand Tour" seems to suggest a live album, it is not. There are 9 tracks on this album, 3 of which are multi-part suites, and the total run time is just over 74 minutes, so it's jam packed with music. The line up for this album consists of Greg Spawton (the only original member as mentioned before) on bass, bass pedals, acoustic guitar and backing vocals; David Longdon (a member since 2009) on lead vocals, flute, additional keyboards, mandolin, and guitars; Dave Gregory (joined in 2009) on guitars; Rikard Sjoblom (joined in 2015) on keyboards, guitars, accordion and backing vocals; Danny Manners (joined in 2012) on keyboards and double bass; Rachel Hall (since 2015) on violin, viola, cello, and vocals; and Nick DVirgillo (since 2009) on drums, percussion and backing vocals. The concept of the album is explained in a thick booklet that comes with the album.

"Novum Organum" starts the album off with a short introductory track. Tonal percussion establishes a moderate pattern with piano and Gabriel-like vocals. The track builds in passion and intensity as other instruments are added in. "Alive" is much more upbeat as synths and keyboards bring in the full band. This track has a much more positive attitude with a basic rhythm and nice harmonization on the chorus with the vocals. The instrumental break approaches a more progressive feel mostly led by guitars and layers of keyboards. "The Florentine" is the first of the longer tracks at 8 minutes. The track centers around Leonardo DaVinci. It begins rather simply with acoustic guitar, mandolin and harmonized vocals. The track has a slightly more complex sound and harmonies build as more voices are added. On the first instrumental interlude, we get a violin that leads the way into a rhythmic change and the continues until the voices come back in. The overall sound of the track remains open and spacious, the emphasis on the layered vocals. The Moog takes over for a cheery solo and then gives up the spotlight to the guitar. The sound becomes symphonic as it continues with choral effects and the apex of a crescendo, then it descends from its climax and slows down quite a bit until the ending.

"Roman Stone" is the first multi-part suite (5 sections) and lasts over 13 minutes. A soft guitar and viola bring in the vocals, again sounding very much like Peter Gabriel, but doing it very convincingly. The subject of this track deals with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. A moderately slow rhythm gives into a somewhat stately sound and a non-traditional song structure, cementing BBT's reputation of being a true Neo-prog style band. To chronicle the entire early Roman history is quite an undertaking for a 13 minute track, but the lyrics are quite rich and things don't really get that cliché and it stays quite believable throughout. Solo and harmonized vocals interact with each other, the song builds beautifully as it reaches the middle, then it quiets as a brass section comes in (where did that come from?). Soon flutes are also added with some piano flourishes, and the individual instruments build in harmonic lines as the drums get more frantic giving us a very nice orchestral feeling. After this, things slow down with a simple viola and voice again, as in the beginning as the vocalist contemplates the fall. This long track is as epic as you expect it to be, with a satisfying ending that ties up the entire track.

The next track "Pantheon" is an instrumental composed by Nick D'Virgilio and his first solo composition for Big Big Train. The combination of strings and brass backed by synths signals that this is going to be good. The drums come in and the brass carries the melody as guitar and synths back things up. After playing the theme, things start getting more complex as the flute come in copying the synth, violin then plays a solo with guitars increasing intensity. All of these instruments work together surprisingly well with a slightly atonal sound just to keep things a bit unsettling, but not overbearingly so. It's quite a nice instrumental with a lot of dynamic, start/stop passages and interesting melodies. "Theodora in Green and Gold" is a more basic song and is based on a mosaic of the Empress. It's a piano-led ballad style, but with an interesting vocal melody. Some of the lead vocals are done by D'Virgilio, hence the differences in vocal timbre in the middle part of the song.

The 2nd multi-part suite "Ariel" comes next. This track has 8 sections to it and lasts over 14 minutes. It's story combines both fact and fiction. The beginning is a simple synth and vocals, solo and harmonized. The sound is quite mournful and sparse. Deep guitars join in supporting the vocal melody with deep notes. A piano and sparse effects begin and more vocals bring in the next section and solo and harmonized vocals work interchangeably. The song moves to a more stately attitude as drums join in. The track continues to develop and build slowly backed by some lovely violin and piano passages. Suddenly, a solid hook is developed with vocals backed by solid guitar. Things get more epic as more string and guitars get the blood boiling, and then it all mellows out again and vocals establish a new melody. The emotional singing and dramatic feel of the track should help this one go down as a favorite in the BBT catalogue. The melody does not follow any real typical structure, but tell it's story quite effectively with a more complex sound. The music builds, thunder effects and a heavy symphonic feel brought on by synths and guitar build everything back up again to quite a lovely peak before it all returns to the more minimal feel of the beginning, returning to the initial melody.

After an epic track like this, what else can you do but follow it up with another epic 14 minute 7-part suite? "Voyager" takes the similar named space vehicle as it's subject. This one begins almost immediately with a full band sound, but at a moderate tempo. It again utilizes solo and harmonized vocals to tell the story, this time, however, backed by brass and the full core band. The vocals are quite emotional and expansive, the brass and cello give it a somewhat lonely and pensive feel when the percussion stops for a while. Drums eventually come back in hesitantly as the violin plays and brings in more vocals. Just before 7 minutes, things become very epic and symphonic as layers of instruments turn this into an orchestral style, becoming very dynamic and then slipping into a suddenly progressive beat and crazy synths and guitars build this into quite a production. Tempos, meters and styles change, and then back off a bit as more vocals come in. By the closing section, things have reached another apex as emotional vocals and instrumental passages build to a climax and then cool off with a piano- led ending.

The last track here is "Homecoming" and starts soft and pensive, like the beginning track, that then suddenly slips into a jazzy style with choppy piano chords and a guitar and violin building up excitement for an amazing and lovely finale. The brass comes back in, the guitars have their last say, and everything comes to a nice end.

This album should go down as one of the band's best. The orchestration is excellent, the vocals are top-notch and emotionally charged, the music is mostly complex and every musician here gets many chances to shine throughout the album. The feel of the album is somewhere between Neo-prog and Symphonic prog, most of the tracks support the progressive claim that the band has as being one of the most well-known and capable bands in progressive music these days, and they prove that quite well in this album. Even with the many changes that the band has experienced, the current line-up is made up of excellent musicians and they sound as if they have been playing together from the beginning. The subjects here are quite epic, and it might seem a little over-ambitious, but the actual theme of the album is rooted in the journey of mankind, so you should expect some heavy subject matter here, however the band handles it all well and somehow stays away from being cliché and are able to stand up to the subject material. This is not only an album that the band's fans and progressive fans should love, but should win over new fans when they put some time into it. Overall, it almost reaches 5 star status, and after more listening, it might come to that, but as far as an early review for the album goes, I can easily say that it is a strong 4 star album, but it is one that I will come back to for reconsideration often.

TCat | 4/5 |

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