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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Big Big Train

English Electric 2

Review by Alison Reijman

Last year, Big Big Train released English Electric Pt 1 to much delight and acclaim. Its music carried on the great tradition of pastoral prog with its overarching air of nostalgia dazzlingly captured through a series of songs, some almost folkie in their construction, others steeped in classical idioms. So to Pt 2 which progresses the themes of Pt 1 further but the landscapes this time are more industrial than pastoral as the band pays homage to some of the workers of previous generations who helped to shape the landscape especially during the British Industrial Revolution. Again, the music throughout is intricate and intelligent, their storytelling evoking images from the past but all told in a very modern and compelling way.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
East Coast Racer

This is an epic opener coming in at around the 15 minute mark. It tells the story of the ground-breaking steam locomotive The Mallard, the fastest engine of her time, and the men who made her. Few bands possess the skill to create a piece which sounds exactly like its subject but from the gentle, beautiful piano of Danny Manners, to the staccato beat depicting the rhythm of train, David Longdon’s intense vocals, brass and string sections, and bass pedals provided by resident sound engineer, Rob Aubrey, this is in a class of its own.
Swan Hunter
Here is a song all about the tradition of British ship-building and its gradual demise. This offers a gentle lilting folkie melody with brass and close harmony refrains which hints at Crosby Stills, Nash and Young’s “Our House.”
Worked Out
“Worked Out” has a breezy melody line, an uptempo vibe and catching chorus, even though it is about a local community of coal miners going about their daily business. Vocalist Longdon is credited with playing cutlery and glassware while Dave Gregory’s guitar and Manners’ keyboards underpin it all skilfully.
Leopards

This completely changes the mood again. Its lush retro string intro launches into an almost waltz-like rhythm with Longdon’s voice showing a lighter side in this charming love song. It’s about a couple having a chance meeting several years after their relationship ended to see if they can rekindle the flame yet again.

Keeper of Abbeys
This number takes the band back to the countryside with another rich tune penned by bassist and main song writer Greg Spawton, a keen observer of life, about a character who becomes part of his surroundings. Moody strings are a main feature of the piece but there is one passage with electric sitar, which almost sounds like European folk music, which somehow does not quite sit with the rest of it.
The Permanent Way
“The Permanent Way” is the junction between Pts 1 and 2 as it uses themes from the first installment and builds them into an achingly beautiful arrangement. This includes another guest appearance from The Tangent’s keyboards wizard Andy Tillison who also had the idea to incorporate some lines of poetry written and narrated by Sir John Betjeman. Be prepared to be moved in a major way with this track.
Curator of Butterflies
This ends it all on a natural high. This lovely ethereal ballad is yet another showcase for Longdon’s impassioned vocals that entwine both the qualities of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, which are now such a hallmark of their sound over a swirl of orchestral gorgeousness.

 

 
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