I might have mentioned this before, but there will many of a certain age (yes, me included ) that look back on a certain time when music was exciting. That reading about music was exciting and looking forward to that new release and finally getting it home and placing the needle on the black vinyl was exciting. What was even more exciting was that when the record had finished, all you wanted to do was to play it again and enjoy the wonders that our favourite musicians had perfected for us. And another exciting thing was that in all probability another album from our favourite band would come our way within nine months to a year tops. We would scrutinise album covers and learn the words to every song. Music (and in our case, progressive rock) meant everything to us.
Although I still love my music, I haven't felt that excitement for a long time. There is so much music out there to digest and listen to. For example. I love Neal Morse's music but I have only listened to his latest one all the way through twice. Sure I have dipped into it and that is probably true of most album listens these days.
However, one band has changed all that and the excitement is back. Big Big Train released Folklore (see review) last year and was the worthy winner of Background Magazine album of the year. It is a splendid album. Before that we had English Electric parts one (2012) and part two (2013) and the Full Power (2013) album that combined the two. The Underfall Yard (2009) started this whole cycle off.
Now, less than a year on they are releasing Grimspound. An album that started off as an EP to follow Folklore but turned into a full blown album. And what an album it is.
No needle to place on vinyl this time. Just headphones and a couple of clicks on the iPad and the excitement is back. So much so that as soon as it finished I had to play it again and then again.
Brave Captain starts us off with a wonderful soundscape before the band kicks in and sets up the song. David Longdon sings about a statue in a park of an aviator and a young boy (himself) asking questions about him. We get a taste of a simple but wonderful chorus that will repeat at the end of the song and will stay in your head for days months years. I am already being told off for constantly singing it around the house. The story continues about the heroics and thoughts of the pilot. It is going to be one of my favourite Big Big Train tracks. A total masterpiece.
Following that we have an instrumental led by keyboards that has a real jazzy feel to it. Rachel Hall plays cello and violin here and I have to say that one of the main differences in this album to Folklore is that the violin is used as a more prominent instrument. Rachel is all over this album and it is better for it.
Experimental Gentlemen is about Captain Cooke and has another catchy hook to it. The musicianship on this album has risen again. The band feel tighter and even more masterful of their instruments if that is at all possible.
Meadowland is the shortest song on the album but also the sweetest. A hedgerow gets mentioned
Grimspound is the title track and is magical. You will be looking out your window for the second brightest star.
The Ivy Gate is the surprise track. For three quarters of the song it is pure folk music. Judy Dyble guests as vocalist and her voice sits with David's perfectly. Think Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention. But then the song kicks off and there is even a bass solo from Greg Spawton. Hypnotic throughout.
A Mead Hall In Winter is the longest song and has a feel of The Underfall Yard about it. It is a song about The Arts and their relevance in society.
We finish with As The Crow Flies. A song that has a simple flow to it but complicated in the fact that I still can't work out the time signature for most of it. Here Rachel shares some vocals with David at the end.
So by now you don't need to guess that I like it. Like it? It is one of the best albums I have heard in the last 17 years or this side of the millennium. There are moments of pure genius. Moments to you make you happy. Moments to make you sad. And most importantly, moments to make you feel excited about music and this band that we love.
This will be the album that all future releases will be judged by. I can only give it five stars. Folklore got five stars and this album is ten times better than Folklore.
Enjoy the excitement
***** Dave Smith
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