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Big Big Train - The Underfall Yard CD (album) cover

THE UNDERFALL YARD

Big Big Train

 

Crossover Prog

4.17 | 534 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Crossover Team
5 stars Big Big Train went from a little tram that could to a huge locomotive that would , the progressive sequence engendered by the na´ve yet wonderful "Gathering Speed" , an album I enjoyed so profoundly I sent Greg Spawton a letter (to which I got a heartfelt answer!) and furthered by their last release "The Difference Machine" where they chose to really chug hard down the astral tracks and positively stunning a few PA colleagues along the way! This time around, the choo-choo train has pulled into Prog Central Station with a mystifying production, flush with a variety of subtle personnel changes. Gone are excellent singer Sean Filkins and drummer Steve Hughes, replaced by the unknown vocalist David Longdon and the genial Nick D'Virgilio of Spock's Beard fame behind the kit. Both must be nevertheless considered upgrades, as they both sparkle in the rain, Longdon coming across like vintage Phil Collins but in a proggier landscape (er? like Fish????) . Nick is well documented as a superstar stickman. Add into the passenger list some members from groups like It Bites, Frost and even XTC and you got on hell of an "equipage". The shrill whistle blows, the kling marries the klang and a sudden jolt shoves this forward. The engine has obviously stoked Spawton's creative juices as he dares to stretch the outer envelope right from the get-go, promoting guest soloist for the most part , proposing vocalizations that usher in the expansive "Evening Star", Andy Poole's bass holding down the macabre atmosphere within walls of mellotron and somber waves of trembling flute and tons of brass (cornet, tuba, trombone, French horn), all played by members of military units. A fascinating instrumental opener. "Master James of St George" is the first evidence that the microphone is in good hands as Longdon shows considerable skill , a huskier version of Uncle Phil , ever bit as passionate (like it or not, I do!) and adventurous. A dab of acoustic guitar rubs a rustic historical veneer on this rather simple piece, waiting for the electricity to kick in, and when it does, Dave Gregory of XTC froths with wanton feel. A Bryan Ferry-like whistle escorts this one away. The epic "Victorian Brickwork" is a classic example of how to juxtapose various tried and true styles as Spawton proudly shows off his Steve Howe lessons, then humbly leaving the solo to Gregory again and blending it all deep within a Genesisian ocean, bass blooming, drums thudding and the theme gently lilting. A delicious orchestral mid section featuring the cornet once again, the trusty mellotrons blazing with devilish fire, slow, grand and majestic . I am huffing and puffing already! Good thing I don't need my passport once in Europe! "Last Train" humorously reminds one of Wind & Wuthering era Genesis with another extended Dave Gregory solo (he played with Peter Gabriel too once) that is inspiring and mournful at the same time. Longdon really cloning Phil makes me smile every time, chuckling at the thought of what others may think when they hear this. "Winchester Diver" is closer to classic Neo-prog , yet John Foyle's electric cello conducts the cabin , permitting a sweet flute manned by Longdon and a wisp of windswept mellotron to plunge us into the lower depths, a bronze-headed silence within the solitude of blue life, minimalist as can be so that the lyrics really rip scathingly. Absolutely brilliant composition. Marillion and IQ fans, its time to jump aboard, here and now before we get to the sprawling caboose, the nearly 23 minute title track finale which will only cement the deal. Undoubtedly BBT's apotheosis , a colossal epic slice of symphonic prog of the loftiest caliber , Frost's Jem Godfrey shoveling coal into his sizzling Moogs (what a solo, ouf!) while Gregory and Francis Dunnery do the Wishbone Ash marshalling guitar thing to great effect, drums slamming suggestively. By know you may have digested the fact that David's singing is primo stuff and that we are in the presence of a major prog force, three enjoyable albums in a row!!!! Not an easy tour de force, especially after the stellar previous album's impact. As for the Jim Trainer artwork, I see why our Czech colleague Marty McFly sees it as communist real socialism; it's the fuming polluted factories, spewing in the background. Other wise the inspiration seems closer to the French impressionists mixed in with some Breughel. Great track though that begs for attention, ( let me catch my locomotive breath) and should be received by fans grandly. 5 TGVs
tszirmay | 5/5 |

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