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


Big Big Train

Crossover Prog

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3 stars This is an odd release. There's a couple of songs that sound quite unlike any recent releases (title track, skyline) a couple of instrumentals that feel like they were left out of the middle of some other song (haymaking, terra austalis), one stellar track that is as good as anything on folklore or grimspound (the leaden stour) and two rearrangements connecting bits of those albums together that probably should have been on the original albums. i suspect there may be a full power version of the recent albums down the road connecting the bits of the three most recent albums. Until then this is an inessential disc. Enjoyable - but unnecessary.
Report this review (#1737318)
Posted Saturday, June 24, 2017 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
5 stars

Having been blown away by the sheer beauty of 'Grimspound' earlier this year, I certainly wasn't expecting another album just yet, so when I received an email telling me about this I was incredibly excited. The album features forty minutes of new songs and instrumentals which explore landscapes, rivers and meeting places and take the listener on voyages of discovery across the world and to the stars. Alongside the new tracks, there is a bonus selection of thirty minutes of music where songs from the last two albums are presented in extended format. I know I shouldn't be surprised at just how mature this music sounds, given that I have known the band for some twenty-five years now, but it continues to delight and entrance me to see how this band have grown and changed. Nick D'Virgilio is probably my favourite drummer in modern progressive music, and I have always loved watching him play, yet with BBT one doesn't notice the complexity of what he is doing unless one listens for it, as he is so much at one with the rest of the band.

The use of so many different instruments within an octet allows them to layer sounds that would be beyond many others, but the pastoral progressive sound they create never overpowers David Longdon's rich vocals. They are a very English band in so many ways, and not just when they are singing about London, as they evoke a feeling not of the current age, but of times gone past when the world was a simpler place. But, there is never anything simple about the music they are performing, but it never feels heavy handed or over the top. It is fresh and bright, never leaden or conspiring to show what everyone can do just because they're proggers, but rather the music always seems perfect and on point, with all the musicians doing exactly what is required. This can mean that they sometimes provide accompaniment to others as opposed to demanding a lead role, or may even sit out sections of songs if that is what is right for the music.

Big Big Train will feature at the top of many music critic's albums of the year, and that there may be a doubt only about whether it is this or 'Grimspound' shows just how important the band has become. Truly wonderful, in so many ways.

Report this review (#1743505)
Posted Saturday, July 15, 2017 | Review Permalink
4 stars Strange little album, but to me the best the band have produced. All of the songs are a straight hit. The album starts calm with a few ballads, some folksongs and jazzy songs.

Skylon and Second Brightest Star are amongst the best progballads have created thusfar.

The icing on the cake, are the two progepics; two extended versions of themes and songs the band used on their previous albums. We can see the albums as a trilogy, and according to the band, this album is the last album in a series of albums that tell the tale of the english countryside and the people living there. I love the concept, and I am curious what the next concept will be.

Report this review (#1744584)
Posted Wednesday, July 19, 2017 | Review Permalink
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 (Sjöblom?). 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 Sjöblom'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.

Report this review (#1765687)
Posted Sunday, July 23, 2017 | Review Permalink
3 stars Review # 63. The Second Brighter Star is the 11th studio album of the English Prog Rock band Big Big Train, that followed the release of Grimspound, with only two months difference. Grimspound released in April, and 'Brighter Star' at the end of June. That was a little weird, and caught many people (including me), by surprise. As far as I understood (and read), in 'Brighter Star' the band decided to include songs that were not included in their two previous albums, together with a few older songs that have been rearranged. The original versions of those songs can be found in Folklore and Grimspound. In the review I wrote about Folklore, I mentioned that after the release of the two excellent albums English Electric Pt.1 & 2, the band went a step back with Folklore. Grimspound that followed, was a good album, better than Folklore in my opinion, but I'm afraid I can't say the same for this last one. The Second Brighter Star is not a bad album, but is nothing special either. Yes, the usual melodic and melancholic style of Big Big Train is present once more, but the compositions as less inspired and less interesting. (Always in my opinion). The sound is rich, including many instruments and the production is very good, but that's not enough I'm afraid. The best moments here are: The Second Bright Star (the album's opening track), followed by the very interesting rearranged versions of London Plane and Brooklands. This is an album that I could recommend to the fans of Big Big Train, who I can guess that already bought it. As for those who are not fans of BBT, you can try it of course, but I do not recommend it. Better try English Electric Pt.1 & 2, and Grimspound. I don't think I can give more than 3.0 stars here.
Report this review (#1769718)
Posted Wednesday, August 9, 2017 | Review Permalink
4 stars 'The Second Brightest Star' may not be the 'best' Big Big Train album, but it is certainly among my favorites. (Well no album I know can top English Electric Full Power in my opinion) Where BBT really excels, at least for me personally, is in their pastoral side, when they are at their most beautiful, and this is even more acoustic than 'Gathering Speed', another one of my favorites. There are 2 really nice new tracks here, namely, 'Skylon', and 'The Leaden Stour', which has a very beautiful, melancholy type of melody, especially during the instrumental break. This passage is so powerfully beautiful that leaves me a bit awed that they seem to be playing the music of my heart, something they've somehow been able to manage, particularly Greg Spawton's music. I tend to like many different things musically, especially complex out-there stuff, which this is really not. But it stirs up deeper emotions within me that I almost forgot I had, and relate to very personally. The instrumentals here, by the way, are also wonderful, of which I'm delighted that there are several. 'Haymaking' is a fun piece that calls to mind, as Rachel Hall, the composer of this one describes as riding through the countryside during haymaking season. Aptly put. 'London Stone' is a beautiful acoustic-based instrumental written by Richard and Danny, and 'Terra Australis Incognita' is a moody, contemplative track, sounding very outdoorsy and fall-like. 'Turner on the Thames' is the instrumental intro to 'London Plane', and here they are joined in their entirety. This pastoral gem is probably my favorite of the instrumentals. Also here are the joining of two of my recent favorites, 'On The Racing Line' and 'Brooklands'. Musically, everything about this album, the playing, the arrangement, the production, and the vocals, are absolutely perfect. And yes, those vocals! David Longdon has one of the richest, most beautiful voice I have ever heard, and I'm stating this with as much objectivity as possible. But it's admittedly difficult to be completely objective about something this moving. So, I'm reviewing this album, not for the sake of reviewing critically, but singling it out specifically because it is simply one of the most beautiful collections of music that I have heard of late. I hope for more like this.
Report this review (#1791427)
Posted Saturday, October 7, 2017 | Review Permalink
3 stars The Folklore remakes are the best tracks.

Like all BBT albums, this one leaves a really positive impression on first listen. The performances and recording quality are top notch, and the singing is great as usual. However, like some other BBT albums (e.g. Folklore), this one doesn't fare as well on repeated listens. First of all, it does seem like a number of tracks on this album are 'seconds' left of Grimspound for various reasons (perhaps the reason for the title?), with one good reason being these tracks are for the most part slower and lower energy than that album. This is not always a bad thing - the title track stands up OK even though it is fairly slow, and Terra Australia Ingognita is one of the best new tracks here despite being a slow instrumental. Meanwhile Haymaking sounds like it should have been left ON Grimspound, as its folkiness would fit very well on the latter album (as it would have on Folklore). But another reason some of these may have been left off is that some of these tracks are simply not very musical. Skylon, London Stone, and Passing Widow, in particular are not only slow but not sufficiently tuneful. They get boring after only a couple of listens. But it is when one gets to the extended remakes of the two tunes from the Folklore album that inadequacy of many of the other tracks hits home. The remakes (of Brooklands, and London Plane, now here called "The Brooklands Sequence" and "The London Plane Sequence") are really excellent - musical, complex, varied, with new extended parts that really show off the band's virtuosity. Brilliant drumming, great guitar solos, wonderful dynamics. These were already the best two songs on Folklore, and they are even better here (and in their extended versions, together take up half an hour). They really show up what is missing on the rest of The Second Brightest Star, which in comparison is much less dynamic, less musical, less memorable. Without these two extended tracks, the album wouldn't be nearly as interesting. I give this album 7.5 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which is a decent outcome, and equates to 3 PA stars. It is the extended tracks (as well as Haymaking, Terra Australia) that make the album worth having.

Report this review (#1818953)
Posted Friday, November 3, 2017 | Review Permalink

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