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

THE UNDERFALL YARD

Big Big Train

 

Crossover Prog

4.17 | 759 ratings

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BrufordFreak
4 stars As a big fan of BBT I was looking forward to this release as a step up even from "The Difference Machine" (which I rated a five star masterpiece). But, alas, despite amazing sound and engineering, David Langdon's astounding vocal arrangements and performances, the wonderful presence of XTC's Dave Gregory on guitar and sitar, Langdon's impressive and beautiful flute playing, the exciting and valuable contributions of cello, low brass (coronet, trombone, French horn, and tuba!) and mandolin, awesome solo appearances by Francis Dunnery and Jem Godfrey, and frequent GENESIS/ANTHONY PHILLIPS- and YES-like moments, there is just something missing. I'm going to say it's the story line(s) and the way the lyrics cryptically or vaguely convey them. The lyricist (BBT founder/core member Greg Spawton) is apparently trying to wax nostalgic about the glory days of some important but nearly forgotten or obscured heroes from Britain's Industrial Age: engineers, architects, laborers, and the like. The problem is that the lyrics do not tell the story very clearly. Were it not for the artwork (wonderful paintings by Jim Trainer!), I would drown in the murky lyrics. What makes this worse is that the lyrical ambiguity transfers into the listener's inability to comprehend and fully feel the choice of musical delivery: tempos, volumes, codas, bridges, and solos are all lost as to their significance in relation to the message trying to be delivered. Also, the music--as wonderfully performed, recorded, and constructed as it is (all deserving only superlatives)--is missing those emotional passages, key changes, and catchy melodies that hook the listener--as they did so well on "The Difference Machine." The closest they come is with David Langdon's wonderful harmony vocal arrangements, his remarkable flute contributions, the ANT PHILLIPS/GENESIS-like acoustic guitar work throughout, and an absolutely stunning final two-and-a-half minutes to "Last Train" followed by the beautiful two-and-a-half minute intro to "Winchester Diver."

All the songs are very good, worthy of repeated listenings and many hours of enjoyment, but I continue to find myself asking "Why? Why use these musical constructs, these vocal harmonies, these dynamic solos, for the expression of these stories?"

Not a prog masterpiece, IMO, but very highly recommended. 21st century prog has few albums as accomplished and consistent as this. Four stars.

BrufordFreak | 4/5 |

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