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Big Big Train - Common Ground CD (album) cover

COMMON GROUND

Big Big Train

 

Crossover Prog

3.91 | 101 ratings

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BrufordFreak
4 stars The Train are back after cleaning house (or, perhaps more accurately, after a bunch of retirements)--working on a lower budget with half the staff. Gone is founding member Andy Poole and recent mainstays Dave Gregory and Rachel Hall. Looking back on "the good ole days," there are plenty of draws on some old musical themes, sounds, and styles--more than I think I've ever heard on a BBT album.

1. "The Strangest Times" (5:08) feels like a pop song from the innocent side of the 1970s--like ANDREW GOLD-- though the lyrics are about the weirdness of the COVID era--as if these times bear any comparison to the Seventies! Nice guitar work. (7.75/10)

2. "All the Love We Can Give" (8:06) here's a vocal range we've never heard from David Longdon! So low! (In truth, it must be Rikard or Nick, right?) Nice keyboard work. The chorus once again brings me back to the music of the 1970s--arrangements by the likes of classic rock bands like Ambrosia, Foreigner, or Styx. The instrumental passage that we move into with the fifth minute is more like classic BBTrain--though Nick's lead vocal again brings us back into the 1970s (Styx). Way more Hammond than I'm used to. At 6:10 we even go jazzy-pop as we move back into the languid motif of the opening section--with Dave's deep voice--though the background vocals are more interesting and prominent. (12.25/15)

3. "Black with Ink" (7:24) Hammond opens this URIAH HEEP or JOURNEY-like song with multiple voices taking turns with the lead. Sounds like some anthemic collaboration between 70s superstars--or GLASS HAMMER. The instrumental passage in the fourth minute is nice. Kind of BLUE ÖYSTER CULT-like. This is followed by a protracted Rick Wakeman-YES section. When vocals return we go back to the happy-go-lucky 70s feel. The next, Mellotron-led, instrumental passage sounds more like ÄNGLAGÅRD. (12.5/15)

4. "Dandelion Clock" (4:14) opens with picked 12-string acoustic guitar before Dave's vocal introduces a kind of Skylark-era XTC-like song pastiche. I like the feel here. Even the vocal and lyrics seem to match the musical mood better than previous songs. I like this folk-pop style for this band better than their post 2010 Symphonic/Neo Prog attempts. Plus, short and sweet sometimes works best. A top three song for me. (9/10)

5. "Headwaters" (2:27) solo piano (reverbed) opens this. It's plaintive, almost lullaby-ish, though nuanced with some minor and off-setting chords. Nice ambiguity. (4.5/5)

6. "Apollo" (7:50) Wow! I absolutely love the beginning of this one! And listen to the return of the Longdon flute! And violins! All while keyboard players use quirky synth sounds more associated with Stereolab. In the third minute we shift more into straightforward prog for blistering guitar solo, horns, and a dirty Wurlitzer solo. Except for the lack of vocals, this one could've come from The Underfall Yard sessions. Great lead main melody in the main verse to dig an earworm into your brain. At the five minute mark we crescendo into another stratosphere in which spacey synths and flutes reign supreme. Nice! The antiphonal horns are also cool. And I'm so glad they choose to stay here and fade out instead of shift into some new and less majestic realm. Excellent. My favorite song on the album. (14.5/15)

7. "Common Ground" (4:54) a strong song built around more of the rock-steady BBTrain strengths. (8.75/10)

8. "Atlantic Cable" (15:06) wave sounds, contemplative piano, and pastoral flute open this one. 90 seconds in we have a Hammond organ open up the door for an entirely different palette to carry forward the key and melody in a full-band, very proggy, classic BBT fashion. Drummer Nick D'Virgilio and bassist Greg Spawton are, by now, so comfortable with one another as to be almost one an extension of the the other. In the fifth minute we move into a new section that sounds very MOSTLY AUTUMN over which Dave sings about the globally unifying event of laying of the trans-Atlantic telecommunication cable. At the end of the eighth minute we then move into a delicate piano and acoustic guitar-based section over which choral voices, Dave, and female lead vocalist trade telling the story. The upper-octave tinkling of the piano is what shines here--and the fact that the electronic elements don't take over and dominate the folk-vocal feel to the section. At 10:58, then, we burst into a full-on BBT prog instrumental run--with all instruments trading time in the limelight. If the patterns of the rhythm section didn't feel so familiar (worn out) (even during the Genesis "Supper's Ready"-like section), this might be a stupendous epic. The final 70 seconds sees the music returning to the most delicate, piano (electric)-based music with multi-voiced choral vocals worked into the mix with Dave's lead. Nice finish. Not bad! (26.25/30)

9. "Endnotes" (6:59) opens with dulcimer-sounding instrument playing solo before being joined by piano, bass, and slow, steady snare-rim hit and hi-hat notes as Dave sings in a very committed voice. I can really feel his investment into this vocal--a feeling I've rarely felt since his amazing debut with The Underfall Yard. Gorgeous music, gorgeous vocal, gorgeous incidentals contributed by numerous instruments--very provocative lyrics (reminiscent of my favorite BBT lyric of all-time: the hand-holding reference from "Winchester from St. Giles Hill"). Great use of muted (and, later, unmuted) horn section. My other top three song. (14/15)

Total Time 62:08

A brave album. A wildly inconsistent album. An album of heart-wrenchingly beautiful highs and, unfortunately, sad and disappointing lows.

B/four stars; a strong collection of songs from these transitioning veterans--an album that is definitely well worth checking out by any lover of progressive rock music--especially if you've been with Big Big Train through all of the years.

BrufordFreak | 4/5 |

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