BIG BIG TRAIN The Second Brightest Star (Crossover Prog, 2017)

Review by kev rowland —

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.

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BIG BIG TRAIN Grimspound (Crossover Prog, 2017)

Review by Walkscore — Excellent! Close to 5 Stars.

More lively and diverse an album than Folklore, Grimspound is a welcome addition to the BBT
catalogue. It keeps with the now-established mature BBT sound (and thus also BBT formula), but with
enough twists and turns to keep it interesting, and to differentiate it from previous albums. Unlike
the album Folklore, which I found drags a bit, Grimspound's 68 minutes go by in a flash. There are
some of the pagan-folk influences introduced on Folklore (the main example here is "The Ivy Gate",
with Judy Dyble guesting on vocals alongside David Longdon, and the violin of Rachel Hall is
featured prominently), but I find the album harkens back more to feel of the English Electric (EE)
volumes in terms of musical diversity and the ability to rock out in between softer passages. But
there is still a clear theme/formula, with references to older English traditions and ways of life,
and I find the lyrics to be quite similar to previous albums (for instance, "Brave Captain" here,
like "Winkie" on Folklore, is about a world-war flying hero, "Meadowlands" harkens back to both
"Edgelands" and "Hedgerow" on EE, etc). So, not much new in that sense. I indeed wish that they
would find newer/different themes to sing about, not because I find the current formula in any way
off-putting, but because they already did this so well on previous albums. Saying this, the music
here is excellent, and I can totally see why people would give this album 5 stars. BBT have with
each subsequent album honed their own voice, and this album doesn't lean quite as much on
melancholic emotives - it is more direct. Standout tracks include the title track "Grimspound", and
the last two tracks ("Mead Hall in Winter" and "As a Crow Flies") which I am sure are set to become
among their most-highly requested live tunes. Those rank up there with the best of English Electric.
But it is the instrumental "On the Racing Line" that I love the best - this track shakes up the
album, and is exactly the kind of diversity that was missing from Folklore. Nick D'Virgilio's
drumming is (once again) awesome - worth the price of the ticket alone - as is the guitar playing.
Other tracks have mixed effects - mixed in the sense of diverse. "Brave Captain" is great, although
I find the lyrics a tad trite, but it has a number of great musical moments, shifting between slow
and fast etc. "Experimental Gentlemen" likewise shifts between time signatures, but the chorus is
less musical than the 6/8 sections. "Ivy Gate" is wonderful - nice addition of Dyble's vocal, but
"Meadowlands" sounds like an outtake from Folklore, with nostalgic and syrup-y lyrics (some which
resurface in Mead Hall, although they fit in better there). On the whole, an enjoyable experience,
up there among the best BBT albums, more memorable and diverse than Folklore, but not quite as good
as their very best. I give this 8.7 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which is near the top end of 4
PA stars.

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BIG BIG TRAIN Folklore (Crossover Prog, 2016)

Review by Walkscore — Quality Music, but BBT Formula.

My biggest criticism of BBT is that they have become a bit formulaic. While The Underfall Yard
largely set the formula (although much of the formula actually started in previous BBT albums too),
it did so in a novel musical way, and with not too much syrup. The lyrics and singing on that album
don't try overly hard, and there is enough musical diversity to prevent one from getting stuck in
the same emotional frame of mind (which the first volume of the original version of English Electric
also accomplished very well, despite sticking to the same theme of decaying English ways of life).
But subsequent BBT albums have leaned a bit too much on the formula, and on steeping the tunes in
much emotion. I find the second (original) volume of English Electric, and this album (Folklore) to
be in the latter category. While it is true that Folklore conjures up a bit more of the old pagan
English folk, notably in the excellent title track, and in "Wassail", the rest of the tracks sound
not dissimilar to those found on English Electric vol.II and Far Skies Deep Time, and to my mind
(after multiple listens) are often not quite as good. Indeed, the album is on the whole slower, and
while I have no problem with slow music, I don't find Folklore maintains interest as well as many
other BBT albums. Some of the slower pieces are simply not as musical. The best tracks are the
opener/title track, the closer ("Telling the Bees"), and the two that border them ("London Plane"
and "Brooklands"), while "Wassail" is notable for sounding sufficiently different. Don't get me
wrong, the musicianship and most of the music here is high quality, better than a lot of other
albums on PA, including a number of classic ones. As other reviewers have noted, their sound has
matured, and the music can be quite subtle. I particularly enjoy listening to the Nick D'Virgilio's
drumming, and am glad that the drums are higher up in the mix on this album than some of the older
ones. But this album drags more than other recent BBT albums, and other than the two folk-inspired
tunes I find it a tad formulaic. I give this 7.7 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to
(high) 3 PA stars.

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BIG BIG TRAIN The Underfall Yard (Crossover Prog, 2009)

Review by Walkscore — Sets the pattern, then rises to the BBT top

Before reviewing Grimspound, I thought it best to start with this, the archetype for the current BBT
sound. The first album with David Longdon, who would not only come to significantly characterize the
BBT sound ever since, but also become a major song-writer for the band (although not on this album,
which is 100 percent composed by Greg Spawton), this album really sets the pattern for what would
follow, all the way to the present. While I think that subsequent BBT albums follow a bit too
closely to the pattern set here on Underfall Yard (with its themes of industrial decline and decay,
the rusting out of the UK and old ways of life), I have to admit it works brilliantly here. The
lyrics have enough diversity, ambivalence and metaphor to keep them interesting (while still
sticking to the main theme), and Longdon's singing is excellent all the way through (including more
harmonies than found on later albums), even if (in my opinion) this album conjures up Genesis too
much. But the key thing is the music. I have listened to all the BBT albums since this one many many
times now, and while I first found The Underfall Yard to be too refractive of Genesis, it has risen
slowly to the top of their catalogue for me, based on the quality of the music. There is not a bad
song on the album ("Last Train" is the weakest, but I never skip it), and the album contains some of
the strongest BBT compositions in their repertoire. "Victorian Brickwork" and the title track in
particular are standouts, and have become essential to their live shows. The album is more refined,
consistent, and efficient than the (excellent) English Electric album(s), and consistently maintains
interest better than (say) Folklore. This is the album against which I now judge all subsequent BBT
albums. While I agree that later albums have helped them refine even more their own sound, without
as much obvious Genesis influence, I think the quality of composition on this one makes it their top
studio album. I give it 9.0 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which is just enough to garner it 5 PA
stars.

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The Prog Report announces new book ‘Essential Modern Progressive Rock Albums'

The Prog Report is pleased to announce the first book dedicated to the resurgence of one of music’s most enduring and underrated genres. Essential Modern Progressive Rock Albums: Images and Words Behind Prog’s Most Celebrated Albums 1990-2016, authored by Prog Report editor Roie Avin, shines a light on the important albums of the modern progressive rock era. The book features more than 50 albums from the last quarter century of Prog, with each chapter dedicated to one album.

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Sounds That Can Be Made #101

Edition 101 of Sounds That Can Be Made is now available as a podcast!

Playlist:

Radiohead – Karma Police (Remastered) (from Ok Computer Oknotok 1997 2017)
Amplifier – Rainbow Machine (from Trippin’ with Dr Faustus)
Anathema – Ghosts (from The Optimist)
Gentle Knife – Fade Away (from Clock Unwound)
Big Big Train – The Passing Widow (from The Second Brightest Star)

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Podcast – The Prog Mill edition 61

Edition 61 of THE PROG MILL (first broadcast Sunday 2nd July on Progzilla Radio) is now available to download or stream any time you want.

This weeks playlist:

1 RPWL – Beyond Man and Time (Beyond Man and Time)
2 Comedy of Errors – Song of Wandering Jacomus (House of the Mind)
3 Big Big Train – The Leaden Stour (The Second Brightest Star)
4 Glorious Wolf – For You and I
5 Fish on Friday – Quiet Life (Quiet Life)
6 Geof Whitely Project – The Blessed and the Damned (The Blessed and the Damned)
7 Malibran – I Know Your Soul (Le Porte Del Silenzio)
8 Knight Area – Heaven and Beyond (Heaven and Beyond)
9 Roger Waters – Smell The Roses (Is this The Life We Really Want)
10 Lone Star – She Said She Said (BBC Sessions)
11 Dead Heroes Cub – Stranger in the Looking Glass (A Time of Shadow)
12 Gregorian – Comfortably Numb (Masters of Chant Chapter V)
13 Gregorian Rock – Talon (Fire)

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Vinyl Review – Cosmograf – The Hay Man Dreams – by Progradar

“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.”
― Michael J. Fox

Surely every musician strives for perfection on every new record that they are working on but perfection cannot be attainable otherwise what else could they seek to achieve? When you follow an artist across their album releases you accompany them on this journey to a perceived nirvana of musical enlightenment, every release opening another door into their soul for clearly that is what every musician leaves with their music, a piece of themselves?

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