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Big Big Train - Wassail CD (album) cover


Big Big Train

Crossover Prog

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4 stars The 1st June of 2015, "Wassail", the new EP of Big Big Train, came out. Already in 2013, the band released an excellent EP called "Make Some Noise" (the tracks of this EP were released after on the box set "English Electric Full Power". They don't disappoint us with "Wassail". Between the title track, powerful, between prog, hard rock, folk and celtic music, which is clearly the best piece of the EP, "Lost Rivers Of London" which is a more calm and serious but still great track, "Mudlarks' which is a great classic prog rock track by the band and the live version of "Master James Of St Georges", everything is really good. And I really think that this EP hides a new album coming soon...
Report this review (#1422110)
Posted Monday, June 1, 2015 | Review Permalink
3 stars Another fine melodic progressive effort from Big Big Train, who have established themselves these days as one of the best in the business. With the "Wassail" ep, we have 3 solid new songs, plus a live version of "Master James of St. George", from "The Underfall Yard". Of the three new songs, 2 are vocal and one instrumental. Of the 2 vocal tracks, I really like "Lost Rivers of London", which, with its interesting chord changes and rhythm variations, I find to be the better of the two. The melodies here are heartfelt and unique. 'Wassail' is good, but a bit more of a straightforward rock approach. Great keyboard playing and nice instrumental breaks do make this opening track a satisfying listen as well. What's really nice, is to have an instrumental here, in "Mudlarks", which represents a bit of a departure in sound for BBT, with almost jazzy chordings, but retaining the strong sense of melody BBT are known for. Of these three tracks, in some ways, each track is a bit more interesting than the previous, which makes for a nice listening progression. In all, another fine effort not far removed from the wonderful "English Electric" albums, and one I would certainly recommend as a pleasing teaser to the next full length release.
Report this review (#1432606)
Posted Tuesday, June 30, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars A cider with a peculiar flavour

Big Big Train has a recent history of mostly excellent releases like The Underfall Yard and their masterpiece English Electric. After cranking up English Electric beyond full power, they have not been idle. They are on their way to become a big big band with Rikard Sjöblom and Rachel Hall added to the line-up. The EP Wassail preceeds a new album to be released sometime in 2016, called Folklore. It contains four tracks which all clock between 6 and 7 minutes.

The end point of the journey took us to Wales, where Jacques de Saint-Georges d'Espéranche a.k.a. Master James of St. George was involved in the building of castles during the late 13th century. This song, which appeared on The Underfall Yard, was recorded live in the studio. Unlike most bonus tracks, this one does not bring the album down. This version, with its orchestration and the superb part-singing, sounds at least as good as the original.

The previous two stops were in London: one within sight of the Thames, the other somewhere above some other river:

Mudlarks is a musical watercolour depicting scavengers on the muddy banks of the Thames in the nineteenth century. This must have been a hard job during the Great Stink. It is a rather jazzy jam with some time signature changes, performed by a tight playing band. It makes me think of Focus somehow. Nice track.

Lost Rivers of London sounds like a soft-pop track with some folk influences. In terms of composition, this one is less strong than the others, but still quite good. The subject, rivers still running underneath the city's surface, may be interesting for someone who has visited London six times and whose eyes have seen only the Thames. Maybe the city will be surprised by a Great Collapse one day when these waters have eroded its foundations.

In the opener, the title track, the Train takes us to a rural environment in wintertime. The listener stumbles in an episode of Midsomer Murders, entitled The Old Serpent Does Not Hibernate, in which a certain Eve White, nicknamed Snow for her beauty and her pale skin, is killed along with her husband after just one bite in an apple injected with poison, shortly before Twelfth Night, apparently to ensure that the Queen of an upcoming yearly event called Wassailing is the uncontested personification of beauty. The murderer from the beginning kills some others in the event - it's Midsomer Murders after all. And the cider of last year's fruit will get a peculiar flavour again. Cheers, inspector Barnaby!

This song has strong folk influences blended with classic rock to make a brilliant composition. In terms of music this one is my favourite track. Nottingham-based David Longdon sings as if he attended many Wassaults in his youth and cherishes their memories. His description of Wassailing, the folkloristic ritual performed in the orchards in the west of England to bless the apple trees, does not need any completion - it is accurate. Yet there are some neo-pagan greets and creeds incorporated: "Blessed be" could be a translation of the title, but for its obviously coven-compliant connotation, just like "a five-pointed star, a sign of who we are".

Overall, this record shows that Big Big Train has succeeded to maintain the high standards of their previous releases. They confirm once more that they are on their way to become one of the big big names of progressive rock. The folk influences, which were perceivable on English Electric (Part One), have increased.

Now only the rating remains: I am not the one who deals out the fivefold kiss, but two apples cut in twain render an appropriate result.

Report this review (#1451345)
Posted Tuesday, August 11, 2015 | Review Permalink
3 stars The star of this 25-year old British, nowadays 8-piece band has grown brighter in the Prog sky in recent years, but sadly I haven't yet listened to any of their albums. Nevertheless this 4-track EP (25 minutes in length) is probably a good introduction to the band's strengths. And one can spot them immediately: a full-blooded sound that leaves enough room for the acoustic folk touch also; powerful vocal harmonies; and tight, effective songs.

At least within this narrow sampling (three new songs unless the live-in-studio recorded 'Master James of St. George' isn't new as well), each one has their individual hooks. On the title track, about the Medieval tradition of banishing the evil spirits away before cider-making, the folk flavour comes out beautifully and the multi-vocal repetition of the word "wassail" is gorgeous rather than irritating. Perhaps my favourite is the near-instrumental 'Mudlarks' that has a vintage prog spirit equivalent to e.g. STEVE HACKETT's classics. In fact the lush info sheet tells that their preceding EP features a version of Hackett's 'Spectral Mornings'.

I'm not necessarily a fan of the somewhat stuffy main vocals of David Longdon, and an EP is always just an EP, but an album's worth of as strong material as this would surely receive four stars from me. I really need to get a closer look at this band.

Report this review (#1468997)
Posted Wednesday, September 23, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars I find that some of BBT's newer stuff is really fantastic, this one included (although it's only 4 songs). I'm not sure why some people are being hard on this disc and giving it low ratings. Three of the songs are new - Wassail, Lost Rivers of London, and Mudlarks (an instrumental), are all excellent. The only criticism I have is that I don't like Master James of St George, not one bit, and I'm not sure why they chose to make a big deal out of this track (I'll listen to that song again once more in case I missed a guitar solo or something). 4 and a half stars.
Report this review (#1478568)
Posted Thursday, October 22, 2015 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
4 stars Just a small teaser from this fantastic modern symphonic band. Wassail proves once again that those Englishmen are in great shape both as a performing band and, specially, as songwriters. There is just three new songs plus a live version of Master James of St George, but what they produced here in just 25 minutes is once again - quality wise, of course - much more than what I´ve heard in 80 minutes CDs from most of other prog acts lately. Their combination of memorable melodies, complex arrangements and emotional delivering reminds me of a time when symphonic prog also meant great songs. Although hardly a retro band, BBT does own a great deal to the masters of the 70´s.

All tracks are great, but my favorite is surely Lost Rivers of London, a fine composition that has all the elements I like in this genre (elaborated arrangement, inspired solos, mood and tempo changes and a poignant melody line) all wrapped up in just 6 minutes (sometimes less is more)! I´m really looking forward to listen to their next full CD. The recording quality is top notch - even the live track is so well played it´s hard to notice that is not a studio version.

If you don´t know this band, this is a good starting point. If you do, then it is another great addition to your collection. Highly recommended!

Report this review (#1527567)
Posted Wednesday, February 10, 2016 | Review Permalink

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