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Big Big Train - Folklore CD (album) cover


Big Big Train


Crossover Prog

4.02 | 628 ratings

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5 stars 'Great album' is a Big Big Refrain for Big Big Train, as their latest album "Folklore" is another stellar achievement in their career, pretty much 6 in a row since "Gathering Speed", back in 2004. Now firmly established with a solid core of devoted musicians, this amazing band has reached pretty much the prog throne, left vacant by the dormant Porcupine Tree and with little challengers looming on the horizon. Their exemplary sound and vision has enthralled a wide cross section of the progressive community, recognizing those precious elements that make prog so, well,? progressive! Everything is first class, from the artwork, the production, the clear arrangements, the magnificent melodies, the lyrics and mostly, the creative delivery that is effortlessly jaw-dropping. David Longdon is speedily becoming a world class vocalist while shedding his 'Gabriel meets Collins' clone label which was once quite apparent but now has morphed into his own style altogether. Greg Spawton is a clever composer and slick guitarist, especially when regularly flanked by the mythical Dave Gregory of XTC fame. The bass duties are ably handled by co-leader Andy Poole whose imprint on their style is indelible. Nick D'Virgilio needs no introduction, he is simply one of the top 5 rock drummers on the planet with a career path that rivals the very best of his craft. The recent addition of Rikard Sjoblom of Beardfish adds even more keyboard splendor, dueling with Dave Manners on all matter of ivories. Solid crew!

The seven and a half minute title track sets the tone from the get go, a forceful romp that showcases Longdon's incredible mastery over his lungs, tempestuous organ and tortuous guitar solos, all expertly held together by the Poole-D'Virgilio tandem, with occasional synthesizer blasts, some deft flute trills and Rachel Hall's violin. The crew wastes little time delving into an epic ride on "London Plane", a slick trip down memory lane as Longdon masterfully displays his Gabriel-esque rasp, a swirling adventure that takes its 10 minute timeline perfectly, evoking a variety of soft yet passionate emotions , very English. The pastoral feel is augmented by the bucolic interface of exquisite acoustic guitar and slippery violin, furthered by some aggressive electric guitar phrasings that underline what a huge axeman Dave Gregory is. Soaring vocals exude strong British tendencies verging on nostalgic but these musicians have always had a very historical perspective on their craft, and rightly so. They are not interested in re- inventing the prog wheel, just perfecting it! I always tire of supposed music experts who constantly rail at prog not being innovative enough! Really? As compared to what? Pop? Metal? Progressive rock has polished itself into a well- defined art form, which is why it has survived torrents of petty ridicule and indignant scorn from the ignorant and profiteering masses (which continues today on the net).

The pensive and innocent "Along the Ridgeway" seeks to perpetuate this unruffled solemnity, a glorious melody shaped by some startling backing vocals, providing lead singer Longdon with the spotlight to decorate the melody with his powerful and heartfelt voice, aided by some sparkling piano, violin and organ additions. Its companion piece "Salisbury Giant" serves to elevate the mood further, raising it to a loftier plane, the violin carving the delicate purity of a melancholic past. The contrast between puerile and mature is simply breathtaking.

Staring at the stars is surely a habit for the curious and wandering artistic mind and "The Transit between Venus across the Moon" addresses the vastness of our universe whether external or internal, and the symphonics really shine through majestically, including strings and woodwinds to add a sense of endless discovery. David Longdon's raspy lilt does wonders here, delivering the urgent and despairing lyrics with apparent control and stellar dedication. A whirlwind guitar solo spirals lovingly amid the dense orchestrations, like some shining comet gliding intensely through the glittering space of time and matter.

The sprightly "Wassail" is strongly reminiscent of more modern British prog-folk, as I could not help drawing slight comparisons to old Traffic circa 'John Barleycorn must Die', both in the rampant organ churning up a storm, as well as Longdon doing a lil Stevie Winwood vocal and the overall energy in the endearing contrasts between pastoral serenity and bluesy wail. 'The apple of my eye', indeed! This is quite an energetic tune, almost beckoning an impromptu sing along in the pub reaction. The slick fiddle section furthers the bucolic feel.

The rather stunning surprise track here is without a doubt the rollicking "Winkie", an evolution of the previous piece, highly cinematographic, as if some soundtrack composition with amazing singing, both lead and backing and including some effect-laden radio voices to add to the score. D'Virgilio thumps enchantingly, driving the mood with aplomb, thus giving the lead voice the perfect platform to bellow strong and proudly. Plenty of shifts and turns, swerves and reversals to keep the most ambitious listener content, the kaleidoscope of sounds presented are brilliantly portrayed and evoked with heartfelt zeal.

The longest piece is the nearly 13 minute extravaganza "Brooklands" and aims at the poignancy heartstrings, muscled by a sensational bass and drum foundation, as well as a series of speedboat soloists that slither over the brooding waves with apparent comfort, powered by musical engines of eternal drive. The sizzling guitar breaks are phenomenal, the flute interventions perfect, D'Virgilio pounding masterfully like some race car driver gone berserk, while Longdon cries wonderfully into his microphone, all contributing to anointing this epic with the highest praise, perfect BBT's highest evolution yet. 'Lucky man', indeed!

This impressive set list finally rests upon the laurels of a gentle breeze, bees fluttering in the sunshine, an unpretentious ballad that seeks no progressive challenge, nothing more than a melodic au revoir that is both comfortable and content. Longdon does sound a lot like Uncle Phil here, but the delicacy of the slithering countrified guitar solo (is that you Mr.Gregory?), the relaxed piano and strings , as well of the gentle choir background exude tears of happiness flowing down some cheek. Unpretentious and beautiful.

In all honesty, both "English Electric" chapters left me only slightly satisfied, perhaps needing more of a revisit that I had initially thought , this gorgeous album on the other hand seems overtly more concise, attractive and seductive. Maturity, vision and team work has paid off handsomely, with a truly distinctive set-list of brilliant songs, with determination and principled vision.

5 urban myths

tszirmay | 5/5 |


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