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(74:20; English Electric Recordings)
These days when I listen to Big Big Train I have to pinch myself, as if there has ever been a band to go through huge progression then it has to be the guys (originally) from Dorset. Okay, so Greg Spawton (these days providing bass, bass pedals, 12-string guitar, brass arrangements as well as co-producing the album) is the only person still there from very nearly 30 years ago, and they have been through a lot, but he never gave up faith and although at one time it was just him and Andy Poole, here is Big Big Train in 2019 producing yet another incredible album. There is no doubt that the line-up changes in 2009 heralded an incredible shift in the band, both in what they were producing and, in the eyes, and ears of both fans and critics. Not only is David Longdon an incredible singer (and multi-instrumentalist), but Nick D’Virgilio brings in many facets (as well as huge cred) while somehow, they also landed guitarist Dave Gregory (XTC)! Since then the band has gone from strength to strength, and while the full line-up is completed by Rikard Sjoblom (keyboards, electric and 12-string guitars, accordion, backing vocals), Danny Manners (keyboards, double bass) and Rachel Hall (violin, viola, cello, backing vocals, string arrangements) they have also brought in an orchestra to help out with proceedings! This isn’t neo prog anymore, but is crossover in its very truest sense as there are times when it seems almost like modern classical with soaring musical sweeps and dips, at others it is almost pop, others melodic rock, yet always with the heart of a prog band who are simply refusing to stay within any preconceived boundaries. This isn’t regressive like many “prog” bands as instead they are going down a track that is firmly of their own making, producing music which is incredibly easy to listen to and enjoyable. Some may say they sometimes go into areas which are often sought out by modern Marillion, but whereas that music can sometimes feel incredibly self-indulgent and too grandiose, this instead feels far more grounded and almost pastoral in comparison. This is an album that can be placed on repeat and it never gets old, never gets tired, and there is always some little musical trick or nuance which keeps the listener wholly engaged and interested. Rarely bombastic, and always considered, this is adult prog created by people who have all been around the scene long enough to no longer have anything to prove and have instead relaxed into creating music which is a delight from beginning to end. They are no longer those fresh-faced lads who sent me a demo tape and photo well over quarter of a century ago but have matured into one of the brightest stars within the progressive firmament. An album of songs, it is majestic, considered, and downright enjoyable. Sit back, pour a glass of your favourite tipple, turn down the lights, and dive into the world of Big Big Train. All you have to lose are your preconceived ideas of what defines the word “progressive” and gain a great deal indeed. Wonderful.
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