Big Big Train - The Underfall Yard

Year of Release: 2009
Label: English Electric Recordings
Catalog Number: EERCD005
Format: CD
Total Time: 60:39:00

Big Big Train's sixth album in their nineteen year history takes a slight departure back from the heaviness of 2007's Difference Machine. The emphasis this time around, like on 2004's Gathering Speed is melody and song craftmanship. Not that their previous album didn't have that, but there was more riffage last time around as the band was obviously influenced by the exploding progressive metal scene.

Big Big Train has basically always been producer Andy Poole and songwriter Greg Spawton. Their early albums were symphonic neo-progressive rock, but Gathering Speed had a lot of maturity to it and the band seemed to find their own voice with it. They've been prolific of late and the craftmanship of their songwriting has really taken a turn north. The epic 23 minute title track that concludes the album is magnificent, rarely deviating from a mix of quiet moodier moments, eventually leading to powerful symphonic crescendos. And there is not a moment of filler in the track.

The album begins with a Canterbury/Classical inspired intro, "Evening Star," which swirls with all kinds of orchestration.This is followed by the Gentle Giant inspired vocal harmonies of "Master James of St. George." From there, it's Big Bg Train all the way with the band crystallizing their style rather than embellishing their influences. The glorious melotron is again present but there's also a sweeping array of instrumentation, mostly created by samples, yet nonetheless providing a great deal of range to the sound. It's also nice to hear the melotron in great abundance as well.

The album again features the amazing drumming of Nick D'Virgilio from Spock's Beard and a new vocalist, David Longton, who was once considered the replacement to Phil Collins before Ray Wilson was chosen for Genesis' Calling All Stations. Longton also adds a multi-instrumental dimension to the band. Jem Godfrey (Frost*) and Francis Dunnery (ex-It Bites) also make guest appearances on the album.

Longton's vocals are very powerful and can draw comparisons in timbre to Phil Collins, especially on the quieter moments, but the man has great range. "Victorian Brickwork" definately reminds me of Wind And Wuthering-era Genesis at the beginning, but the strident, edgy guitar that follows takes it to new directions. This form of post-rock instrumentation counterpointed by the soft, melodic sound of early prog seem to be the new trademark of Big Big Train and it's a nice balance.

"Last Train" begins softly again, before building into a frantic keyboards/guitar workout crescendo. The album even gets better with "Winchester Diver" before concluding with the amazing title track. In a nutshell, Underfall Yard begins strong, and gets better. Somewhere in there, there's a story about a collapsing Cathedral that is saved by it's foundations but the concept behind the album is neither laboured nor obvious.

Something should be said about the packaging. A lot of work has gone into providing the owners of this release with a full colour booklet containing original artwork on each page and that makes owning the CD essential. This harkens back to the halcyon days of prog where packaging sometimes was as important as the music.

After many listens, the music shines through it all. To my ears, Big Big Train has released something that challenges my favourite release (Astra's The Weirding) for prog album of the year. Don't download it; buy it. If you're a fan of mid seventies Genesis, and appreciate the more symphonic side of neo Prog where virtuoso instrumentation is present, but never usurping sweet melody and excellent song craftsmanship, then this album is for you.

Evening Star (4:53) / Master James Of St. George (6:19) / Victorian Brickwork (12:33) / Last Train (6:28) / Winchester Diver (7:31) / The Underfall Yard (22:54)

Andy Poole - bass, leyboards
Greg Spawton - guitars, keyboards, bass
Nick D'Virgilio - drums
Dave Desmond - trombone
Francis Dunnery - guitar solo, guitar
Rich Evans - cornet
Jon Foyle - cello
Jem Godfrey - synthesizer solos
Dave Gregory - guitar solos, guitars, electric sitar
David Longdon - vocals, flute, glockenspiel
Nick Stones - French horn
Jon Truscott - tuba

From The River To The Sea (demos on self-released CD) (1992)
The Infant Hercules (demo cass) (1993)
Goodbye To The Age Of Steam (1994)
English Boy Wonders (1997)
Bard (2002)
Gathering Speed (2004/2009)
The Difference Machine (2007/2010)
English Boy Wonders (remade/remastered) (2008)
The Underfall Yard (2009/2011)
Goodbye To The Age Of Steam (remastered/expanded) (2011)
English Electric, Part One (2012)
English Electric, Part Two (2013)
Folklore (2016)
Grimspond (2017)
The Second Brightest Star (2017)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: December 25th 2009
Reviewer: Richard Zywotkiewicz
Artist website:
Hits: 3041
Language: english


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