Big Big Train - Grand Tour

(CD 2019, 74:20, English Electric Recordings ‎- EERCD0024)

The tracks:
  1- Novum Organum(2:33)
  2- Alive(4:31)
  3- The Florentine(8:14)
  4- Roman Stone(13:33)
  5- Pantheon(6:08)
  6- Theodora In Green And Gold(5:38)
  7- Ariel(14:28)
  8- Voyager(14:03)
  9- Homesong(5:12)

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Inspired by its 2018 gig at the The Night Of The Prog festival near German city Loreley, the band decided to make a concept album about travelling. In this case wealthy young men and women from earlier England who are making a trip through Europe, especially ancient Rome. Because “travel broadens the mind”. The albums contains a lavish booklet with wonderful water colour paintings and extensive information about the journey and the musicians, and their extensive instrumentation. The music is like an interesting journey, varied and exciting, from dreamy landscapes to impressive buildings. With a strong eye for details, and emotion, many times musically translated by the outstanding singer and multi-instrumentalist David Longdon.

You can divide the nine compositions in five shorter tracks (between 2 and 7 minutes) and four epic compositions (between 8 and 15 minutes). First the shorter ones.

Like the very short opener Novum Organum, atmospheric with soaring keyboards, tender piano and wonderful, very emotional vocals, with strong hints from Peter Gabriel (the singer has also that hoarse timbre, adding an extra emotional dimension to the music).

The next song Alive is totally different, after a short Mellotron intro follows a catchy beat with a cheerful atmosphere, close to Neo-Prog, with delicate work on guitar and keyboards (like a Tony Banks inspired synthesizer solo), topped with dynamic drums and again wonderful Peter Gabriel-like vocals, now with a powerful voice.

The other short songs deliver a lot of fine musical ideas and lush instrumentation. A catchy beat, lots of brass, Eighties King Crimson guitar sound and a exciting bombastic finale in Panthenon, impressive and majestic, like the ancient Roman building the Pantheon. The ballad Theodora In Green And Gold also contains Neo-Prog and melodic rock elemens with a catchy beat, strong vocals, halfway through an accellaration with sensitive electric guitar and finally dreamy with beautiful piano play. And the final track Homesong alternates between mellow and up-tempo with melancholical violin, fluent piano runs, powerful electric guitar, pleasant Hammond waves and strong vocals.

Now the four long compositions, these sound very melodic and harmonic, with cascades of flowing changing climates and a wide range of instruments, topped with excellent vocals, often with strong emotional undertones. And these epics also contain 76-77 Genesis inspired sumptuous eruptions and finales, featuring the distinctive Moog Taurus bass pedals, majestic Mellotron drops and moving guitar leads, goose bumps, this is top notch symphonic rock!

Like The Florentine that ranges from dreamy with piano to folky with acoustic guitar and mandolin and bombastic with bass pedals, flashy synthesizer runs and awesome Mellotron choirs, topped with often tender vocals.

The varied and dynamic Roman Stone is layered with a wide range of instruments: violin, piano, trombone, flute, Mellotron, acoustic - and electric guitar, and again we can enjoy very pleasant Peter Gabriel-like vocals.

Ariel is based upon Shakespeare's work The Tempest and delivers lots of tension, due to the huge contrasts in the changing atmospheres, and a wonderful colouring with violin and guitar (like use of wah wah pedal). In the final part a very compelling build-up with intense Mellotron choirs, propulsive drum beats, bass pedals and powerful, very emotional vocals, in the end a mellow part with tender violin, piano and vocals, wow!

Finally Voyager, often with strong 76-77 Genesis hints, but also lots of brass and woodwind (trumpet, French horn, cornet), this adds a special flavour to the music. In the bombastic eruptions we can enjoy flashy synthesizer flights, a harder-edged guitar solo, powerful Hammond, moving guitar, bass pedals and emotional vocals. Again Big Big Train succeeds to generate a lot of excitement, again Big Big Train delivers many interesting musical ideas, and again this is topped with David Longdon and his excellent voice, what a strong bonus on this album!

This new Big Big Train album is an excellent example that anno 2019 symphonic rock still can sound fresh, dynamic, elaborate and varied, with echoes from Classic Prog, but with a strong own touch, highly recommended!

**** Erik Neuteboom (edited by Dave Smith)

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