Big Big Train – Welcome To The Planet track-by-track album review

13 01 2022

Big Big Train release their new album Welcome To The Planet on their own label, English Electric Recordings on 28 January 2022. The new album comes shortly after their 2020 release, Common Ground, and was completed before the untimely passing of their vocalist David Longdon in November 2021.

David is one of my favourite vocalists, and as each album from Big Big Train is released, it has been a joy to listen to the band progressing, exploring new lyrical themes and musical landscapes. David’s rich vocals, along with his powerful and intelligent songwriting, will be missed by all fans of the band.

Welcome To The Planet is the second album recorded during the pandemic, and with the new line-up of the band.

After teasing us with a series of stand-alone streaming releases, the album was confirmed late last year. Big Big Train founder Gregory Spawton explained the short gap between albums: “The experience of the pandemic has shown us that we need to make the best use of our time on Earth. With that in mind and with new band members on board giving us a fresh head of steam, we decided on a speedy return to the studio to write and record Welcome To The Planet.”

The album opens with Made From Sunshine, a duet between David Longdon and Clare Lindley, the band’s violinist. An uplifting, optimistic take on new life and new beginnings bringing joy. It will bring a smile to your face, and acts as a perfect tonic for these troubled times we find ourselves living through.

“It’s clear to see, we’re on cloud nine.”

The Connection Plan is a Nick D’Virgilio song about connecting with others despite our differences. Driven by an insistent violin and a bass-line that cuts through from Greg Spawton, lovely mellotron lines feature to warm the hearts of the traditional prog-heads!

The vocal arrangement of the chorus is a real highlight of The Connection Plan.

“Kill the spotlight, power and might”

Two Greg Spawton composed tracks take their place in the album’s well-sequenced running order. Lanterna was inspired by the 16th Century Lanterna di Genova (the Lighthouse of Genoa).

Lanterna has a beautiful, slow-paced but intricate introduction section that highlights the warm timbre of David Longdon’s voice, before the tempo picks up and the band kicks in.

The riffs intertwine and fight for your attention, with some of the guitar lines reminding me of the work of Alan Murphy on Kate Bush’s Experiment IV single.

Capitoline Venus is a pared back recording featuring David on vocals / keyboards and Greg on 12-string guitar. A short, sweet and direct love song.

“I have seen enough. And found home”

A Room With No Ceiling is the first of two instrumental tracks on Welcome To The Planet. Written by guitarist/keyboardist Rikard Sjöblom, A Room With No Ceiling is a jazz-hued progressive piece that drips with delicious hammond organ and rhodes piano, topped off with accordion and military paced drums. The refrain at the end of this song is very moving.

Proper Jack Froster kicks off the second section of the album. The lyrics tell the tale of Greg Spawton’s early childhood in the Midland’s. The song is a nostalgic and personal track, with a powerful vocal interplay between David and Carly Bryant. Wurlitzer electric piano and sleigh bells feature on Proper Jack Froster, as it perfectly captures the spirit of a 70s winter snowscape.

“Flying down the hills
On a sledge with rusty rails
One last run then home”

The album’s second instrumental is the Nick D’Virgilio penned Bats In The Belfry. One of my favourite tracks on the album, the percussive heavy piece is the most powerful performance I have heard from D’Virgilio as a member of Big Big Train. The drum section after the mid-song breakdown is stunning, and makes you want to go back to the beginning of the track to hear it all over again. And again.

Oak And Stone is the longest song on Welcome To The Planet, weighing in at just over seven minutes, so no “epics” on this album, but this is not an issue as all the tracks are so strong and the album works so well as a complete body of work.

Oak And Stone looks back at a life lived. The warm, laid back drums from Nick and the strong vocal performance from David (with powerful harmony vocals from Nick and David) in the coda make this such an enjoyable track, that will probably be an early favourite for many fans.

“Time to put this thing to rest
Time to leave the empty stage”

The album closes with the title track, and the band have saved the best till last. Written by new keyboard player Carly Bryant, and featuring Carly and David on vocals, the amazing rich harmonies, along with the dystopian lyrics, deliver a haunting track that give me strong J. G. Ballard vibes.

The space in the arrangement, with the sparse lyrics, make this track stand-out in the Big Big Train catalogue, and is a perfect example of how new band members are always welcome to add their creativity and personality to the mix with this most collaborative of bands.

The biggest surprise with Welcome To The Planet is the wide variety of styles and moods that inhabit the album. Having the writing split amongst the band members – both established and new – gives Welcome To The Planet a sense of vibrancy and playfulness that makes it one of the best albums from the band.

Buy the album (vinyl, CD plus bundle packages) at Burning Shed
Buy the CD from Amazon
Buy the vinyl from Amazon

Part One
Made From Sunshine
The Connection Plan
Lanterna
Capitoline Venus
A Room With No Ceiling

Part Two
Proper Jack Froster
Bats In The Belfry
Oak And Stone
Welcome To The Planet





Airbag – Identity (Remastered) CD & Vinyl review

3 06 2021

Karisma Records are releasing a remastered version of Oslo band Airbag’s 2009 debut album Identity in June 2021 on CD and in early August on double vinyl.

The original, according to my Last.FM stats, was my most played album in 2009, so I’m obviously a big fan of this album. Identity has been lovingly remastered by Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow, The Opium Cartel).

Identity is a wonderful mixture of Pink Floyd influenced, melodic prog with quite wide-ranging pop influences such as later period Talk Talk and at times, hints of modern electronica.

Jacob Holm-Lupo’s remaster is a revelation. Comparing the two versions side by side, the new version is less sharp on the ear, the guitars are not always at the top of the mix and there is space for the electronics to breathe. Ride cymbals shimmer, the bass is deep and cuts through perfectly, and production touches such as effects on vocals and keyboards sit so much better in the mix. The original, which sounded pretty good back in the day, has been polished and cleaned, and is now a sparkling diamond of an album.

The instrumental Prelude sets the scene, with emotional solos from guitarist Bjørn Riis. The album is a definite pop your headphones on, sit back and close your eyes, listening experience. If you give the album your full attention, you will be rewarded.

No Escape is one of the key tracks on Identity. The pace is steady and constant, but the arrangement dips in and out of it’s intensity, with a heady mix of David Gilmour influenced guitar lines and simple but effective vocal arrangements. The ending, with processed drums and an emotional piano refrain, is a joy to listen to.

“Why does it feel like I’ve been here before,
please pull me out of this dream.”

Safe Like You has a Massive Attack sounding drum pattern, and infectious keyboard lines that underpin the emotive guitar parts. This is one of the songs that really benefits from Holm-Lupo’s warm, widescreen and colourful remaster.

“My stomach aches when you look at me as if I was fake”

Steal My Soul makes good use of soundscapes and Robert Fripp influenced guitar textures before the more traditional arrangement kicks in. This is the track that is likely to appeal to fans of 70s prog and classic rock.

The remaster of Steal My Soul is another noticeable improvement, and Colours, with its clearer vocal and acoustic guitar mix, sounds like it was recorded yesterday, rather than 12 years ago. How time flies…

The final two tracks – How I Wanna Be & Sounds That I Hear – thrive on the atmospherics, and work as if they are one long piece, rather than two distinct tracks.

Sounds That I Hear is one of my favourite Airbag songs, with delicate organ washes, snatches of distant radio conversations and a powerful classic progressive rock arrangement that sits comfortably (numb) alongside the dark lyrics.

“The memories we had
are left behind”

So if you already own this album, should you buy it again? For me, its a genuine sonic improvement, and the best version of one of my favourite albums of the past 20 years, and so yes I will be buying it again, on vinyl rather than CD. My original copy will go to a charity shop to hopefully turn someone else on to the band. Got to spread the prog love, right?

Buy the Identity (2021 Remaster) CD (available from 11 June 2021) from Amazon


Buy the Identity (2021 Remaster) (Deluxe White Vinyl) 2LP – pre-order (available from early August 2021) from Amazon

Tracklist:

Prelude
No Escape
Safe Like You
Steal My Soul
Feeling Less
Colours
How I Wanna Be
Sounds That I Hear

Identity-era Line-up:

Asle Tostrup – vocals
Bjørn Riis – guitars & vocals
Jørgen Hagen – keyboards
Anders Hovdan – bass
Joachim Slikker – drums





Big Big Train – The Underfall Yard (Remixed and Remastered) Review

29 03 2021

Big Big Train are releasing their 2009 album The Underfall Yard for the first time on vinyl, as a triple 180g LP in a trifold cover. The set is made up of the original album over 2 LPs with a further album containing 48 minutes of material, including a 2020 studio re-recording of the title track preceded by a previously unreleased brass prelude, and a new song Brew And Burgh.

The Underfall Yard cover

The Underfall Yard (Remixed and Remastered) is also available as a double CD.

The Underfall Yard was the first Big Big Train album to feature David Longdon on vocals and also the first to feature Nick D’Virgilio as the band’s drummer. Former XTC guitarist Dave Gregory appears on most tracks, along with Francis Dunnery (It Bites) and Jem Godfrey (Frost*) on the title track. The 2020 version of The Underfall Yard is a remix as well as remaster, so is the definitive version of one of the most popular releases from the band.

Big Big Train

One of the main upgrades in sound is the separation and space offered in this mix. This is particularly noticeable on the album opener, Evening Star. The choral, wall of sound vocals are so much richer, and when the brass makes it’s first entrance half-way through, it really hits the mark. I’m reviewing this from a digital stream, which sounds amazing but I cannot wait to hear this on vinyl at the end of April.

David Longdon’s stunning vocal arrangements on Master James of St George are really noticeable on this remix / remaster, and the powerful instrumental sections, often underpinned by deep bass notes, fly out of the headphones / speakers.

“But lines get broken
Lines get broken down”

Victorian Brickwork is one of my favourite Big Big Train songs, and is all the more heart-breaking when you read the story behind the lyrics in the updated interview with Greg Spawton conducted by Dave Bowler on the band’s UnderFall Yard micro-site.

“Call up the boys, call them now
Time to bring them home
They will call if they want to”

Last Train is the story of the last day at work for a 1930’s station master, and almost feels like a template for some of the music the band has released since this album.

Winchester Diver has a notable upgrade, with the opening synth line replaced by trumpet in the 2020 mix. The mellotron and flute also sound so warm in this 2020 restoration. I have always loved the album, but believe me, you will be blown away when you hear how it sounds now. It’s like upgrading from a Crosley record deck to a Linn!

The quiet section, with Winchester bells, at around the 4 minute mark also has such depth and clarity.

The 23 minute title track, the final track on the album proper, is a joy to listen to. Greg Spawton’s paean to Victorian engineers is a career highlight. Each individual passage, riff and motif flows beautifully from the one before, never out-staying it’s welcome.

“Using just available light
He could still see far”

Just hearing the main album remixed and remastered would justify the purchase of this new version of the album, but the additional tracks are not mere add-on’s, they work well on their own. Sensibly, they are separate from the main album, so you can enjoy the original concept and flow that you already love.

Songs From The Shoreline features a new 2020 recording of Victorian Brickwork married to Fat Billy Shouts Mine (from Far Skies Deep Time), as well as a new version of the title track. Both versions are studio versions that are informed by the live performances from recent years, along with an additional piece, the brass Prelude To The Underfall Yard. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, brass bands were often used as part of the early 70s musical palette and they have dropped off the radar since, which is a real loss. The sound and feeling evoked can take me back to another time and place, and as someone who spent 5 years living in Yorkshire in my formative years, hearing Prelude To The Underfall Yard is an incredibly moving experience.

The album ends with a new song, written specifically for this reissue. Brew And Burgh is a moving tale (referencing lots of earlier Big Big Train songs – Big Big Train bingo if you will!) of friendship and companionship. A warning, the video may make your eyes rain.

So as a final thought, if you already own The Underfall Yard and are thinking, should I buy the album again? My answer would be a hearty yes. It is such an improvement that you will find yourselves falling in love with the album all over again.

The Underfall Yard
Remixed and Remastered
Evening Star
Master James of St George
Victorian Brickwork
Last Train
Winchester Diver
The Underfall Yard
Additional Tracks
Songs From The Shoreline:
(i) Victorian Brickwork (2020 Version)
(ii) Fat Billy Shouts Mine
Prelude To The Underfall Yard
The Underfall Yard (2020 Version)
Brew And Burgh

Buy from the Big Big Train store
Buy From Burning Shed





Frost* 13 Winters artbook / boxset Review

10 11 2020

Frost* are releasing 13 Winters, a Limited Edition Deluxe 8-disc Artbook that contains remastered (and for Experiments In Mass Appeal a remix/remaster) of their three studio albums, plus the previously digital only Others EP, two live albums, the instrumental version of Falling Satellites, a rarities disc along with an artbook.

Frost* were formed in 2004 by Jem Godfrey, who was known for creating chart-topping hits for acts including Atomic Kitten, Shayne Ward and Holly Valance. Godfrey teamed up with John Mitchell (Lonely Robot, Kino, Arena, It Bites…) and other musicians to explore his earlier roots in progressive rock. Whilst modern progressive rock is at the forefront of Frost*, the songs also expose Godfrey’s pop skills, with strong melodies and hooks.

The Milliontown remaster is a subtle upgrade, with better separation and clarity, making the quieter parts more powerful but the heavy patches hit you hard with their renewed energy. This presents the album in its best light, and it is a pleasure rediscovering the band’s debut album. From the slow-building progressive-pop of Hyperventilate, that sets an early blueprint for the breadth of Frost*’s vision, to one of my favourite songs, the warm and nostalgic Snowman.

Black Light Machine highlights the power of this new remaster, and the closing song, the epic Milliontown, sounds stunning.

Whilst not a favourite of Jem Godfrey, I love the band’s second album, 2008’s Experiments In Mass Appeal. It does have more of an alt-rock feel than its predecessor, and is certainly more guitar based, but the pop sensibility remains. The version of Experiments In Mass Appeal in this boxset is a 2020 remix as well as a remaster.

Along with the rock tracks, such as the title track and Pocket Sun, the album delivers some touching slower paced, more melancholic pieces. My favourite of these is Saline. At times reduced to just a solo piano line, this is one of the most stripped back but hard-hitting tracks the band have ever released. When the strings kick in towards the end, you realise that Saline is such a powerful and emotional statement.

“And I don’t know if I can survive the feeling
Losing all that’s mine”

Falling Down is another personal favourite, and has remained so since its release back in 2008. Andy Edwards contributes some great drum patterns on this intelligent arrangement, as it shifts from light to dark moods. Toys reminds me of mid-period Mansun, and is stuffed to the brim with hook after hook. The Secret Song (aka the hidden track on Wonderland) is a fine way to end the album.

“And I’ll be fine
Don’t worry
Remember me…”

2016’s Falling Satellites is available as the full album plus an instrumental version in the 13 Winters boxset. The album features the mighty Craig Blundell on drums, who leaves his mark early on with Numbers and a song that reminds me of The Police in the verses, Signs. There is a strong feeling of consistency throughout Falling Satellites, which comes across as a real band album, and benefits from a subtle and sympathetic remaster.

Towerblock is a song of change and rebuilding, and the loss of the physical places where some of our memories live. A glitchy, stuttering production full of found sounds makes this track unique in the bands catalogue.

“(They’re all gone gone gone gone gone gone)
The height lines on my bedroom door
(They’re all gone gone gone gone gone gone)
My soldiers hiding under the floor”

Lights Out is another quality mid-tempo pop piece, and freshens the palette mid-way through the album.

Closer To The Sun is a late-night chillout track, with mesmerising percussion work, that mutates mid-song, featuring a solo from Joe Satriani as the arrangement becomes more progressive. Mix those genres Frost*! Which is something they do to even more dramatic effect on The Raging Against The Dying Of The Light Blues in 7/8, which starts off like a modern take on the blues genre before shape-shifting into a completely different beast as the song twists and changes.

The album ends with the short and sparse Last Day.

“Handprints in old concrete
Ghosts we leave behind”

Falling Satellive is the Falling Satellites album (minus opening track First Day) in a live performance with the same line-up as the studio album. The live version of Numbers gives off strong Synchronicity 1 (The Police) vibes. The album is a recording of the band’s gig at Dingwalls, London, in November 2017.

Shorn of a lot of the studio production effects, the songs work well live, with a heightened sense of energy and purpose. Lights Out and especially Closer To The Sun work well in a live environment. Be prepared for an interloper at the end of the final track, by the way. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The second live album, The Philadelphia Experiment, was recorded in 2009 and features a different line-up, including Dec Burke, Nick D’Virgilio and John Jowitt. It features one of the best humorous uses of intro music I have heard, and a solid set from the first two studio albums, including a live-looping Snowman and an electrifying Milliontown.

13 Winters features the first physical release for the Others EP from earlier in 2020. Featuring a stripped back line up of Jem Godfrey and drummers Craig Blundell / Andy Edwards, Clouda features wonderful harmonies and Exhibit A pushes the tempo to extremes.

Fathom is an orchestral piece, whilst Eat is a sample driven song, like Art of Noise on steroids. Drown pumps up the electronics and I look forward to hearing more songs that deviate from expectations from Frost* in the near future (a new album is being written and recorded at the moment).

The final disc is This And That – B-Sides And Rarities. Opening with one of the most ambitious Frost* songs, The Dividing Line is a 16 minute plus track that alternates between Goldfrapp-esque glamrock, quasi-classical / music-box breakdowns and some of the wildest riffage in the bands catalogue. The song is all over the place stylistically, it doesn’t follow the rules and shouldn’t really work, but the absolutely manic joy in the performance captures your attention and is a highlight of this set. The Dividing Line is certainly not for the faint-hearted!

British Wintertime is the strongest song on this disc and one of my favourite Frost* songs – a delicate, emotive goodbye. I never tire of this song, its one I often put on repeat. A beautiful, mesmerising piece of music.

There are four songs in demo form on this disc that offer a preview of how the finished studio tracks developed. The Towerblock demo is mostly found sounds, smashing and crashing over a skeletal arrangement. The demo of Closer To The Sun is interesting to hear, as it is even more electronic than the final version. A short demo take of Last Day is the final vocal track on the This And That – B-Sides And Rarities disc. The instrumental soundscapes of Hyperventilate Hypoventilate Paulstretch Test closes the collection, with its dreamlike waves of stretched sound.

Frost* 13 Winters is a quick and easy way to get hold of the band’s back catalogue, and the albums all sound better than they ever have (not that they originally sounded bad!). The set also includes an artbook containing images from the cover-art shots, an honest / self-critical interview with Jem Godfrey and album notes, including lyrics for the studio albums.


Buy Frost* 13 Winters on CD from Amazon

Buy from other retailers


As well as the limited physical release, the individual albums will be available digitally from the end of November 2020.

Disc 1 – Milliontown (2006) Remaster 2020

  1. Hyperventilate (Remaster 2020) 7:30
  2. No Me No You (Remaster 2020) 6:08
  3. Snowman (Remaster 2020) 3:54
  4. Black Light Machine (Remaster 2020) 10:08
  5. The Other Me (Remaster 2020) 4:48
  6. Milliontown (Remaster 2020) 26:09

Disc 2 – Experiments In Mass Appeal (2008) Remix/Remaster 2020

  1. Experiments In Mass Appeal (Remix/Remaster 2020) 7:54
  2. Welcome To Nowhere (Remix/Remaster 2020) 5:32
  3. Pocket Sun (Remix/Remaster 2020) 4:29
  4. Saline (Remix/Remaster 2020) 6:09
  5. Dear Dead Days (Remix/Remaster 2020) 6:50
  6. Falling Down (Remix/Remaster 2020) 5:50
  7. You/I (Remix/Remaster 2020) 1:05
  8. Toys (Remix/Remaster 2020) 3:05
  9. Wonderland (Remix/Remaster 2020) 5:54
  10. The Secret Song (Remix/Remaster 2020) 8:21

Disc 3 – Falling Satellites (2016) Remaster 2020

  1. First Day (Remaster 2020) 1:39
  2. Numbers (Remaster 2020) 4:21
  3. Towerblock (Remaster 2020) 6:13
  4. Signs (Remaster 2020) 6:35
  5. Lights Out (Remaster 2020) 3:51
  6. Heartstrings (Remaster 2020) 6:20
  7. Closer To The Sun (Remaster 2020) 7:20
  8. The Raging Against The Dying Of The Light Blues In 7/8 (Remaster 2020) 7:49
  9. Nice Day For It (Remaster 2020) 6:37
  10. Hypoventilate (Remaster 2020) 2:00
  11. Last Day (Remaster 2020) 3:25

Disc 4 – Falling Satellites – Instrumentals (2016) Remaster 2020

  1. First Day (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 1:39
  2. Numbers (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 4:21
  3. Towerblock (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 6:13
  4. Signs (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 6:35
  5. Lights Out (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 3:51
  6. Heartstrings (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 6:21
  7. Closer To The Sun (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 7:20
  8. The Raging Against The Dying Of The Light Blues in 7/8 (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 7:49
  9. Nice Day For It… (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 6:37
  10. Hypoventilate (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 2:00
  11. Last Day (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 3:24

Disc 5 – Falling Satellive – Live 2017

  1. Numbers (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 4:45
  2. Towerblock (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 7:48
  3. Signs (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 7:18
  4. Lights Out (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 5:40
  5. Heartstrings (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 6:02
  6. Closer To The Sun (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 7:35
  7. The Raging Against The Dying Of The Light Blues In 7/8 (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 7:49
  8. Nice Day For It… (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 6:44
  9. Hypoventilate (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 1:02
  10. Last Day (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 3:45

Disc 6 – Others – EP

  1. Fathers 4:54
  2. Clouda 6:54
  3. Exhibit A 5:35
  4. Fathom 3:58
  5. Eat 4:39
  6. Drown 5:59

Disc 7 – The Philadelphia Experiment – Live 2009

  1. Intro (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 2:06
  2. Hyperventilate (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 5:55
  3. Wonderland (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 4:56
  4. Black Light Machine (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 10:29
  5. Snowman (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 6:18
  6. Saline (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 6:16
  7. Milliontown (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 25:58
  8. The Other Me (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 7:19

Disc 8 – This And That – B-Sides And Rarities

  1. The Dividing Line 16:50
  2. Lantern 3:45
  3. British Wintertime 6:29
  4. The Forget You Song 2:24
  5. Numbers (Day 1 Demo) 4:14
  6. Towerblock (Day 1 Demo) 3:01
  7. Heartstrings (Demo) 5:00
  8. Closer To The Sun (Demo) 7:16
  9. The Raging Against The Dying Of The Light In 7/8 (Day 1 Demo) 7:54
  10. Last Day (Demo) 2:48
  11. Hyperventilate Hypoventilate Paulstretch Test 8:53

Buy Frost* 13 Winters on CD from Amazon





Lunatic Soul – “Through Shaded Woods” album review

16 10 2020

Lunatic Soul release their new album Through Shaded Woods on KScope on 13 November 2020, on single CD, limited double CD and vinyl.

Lunatic Soul is the solo studio project of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Mariusz Duda (Riverside). Album number seven Through Shaded Woods explores the darkness of Slavic and Scandinavian folk.

Previous Lunatic Soul albums have been very electronic affairs. Through Shaded Woods is a virtually electronic free zone, with more acoustic and electric guitars than previous releases and for the first time, Duda plays all the instruments.

Through Shaded Woods opens with the hypnotising and trancelike Navvie, an upbeat and rousing call to arms that conjures up “the souls of the dead” and along with several tracks on the album, signals a feeling of rebirth and positivity. Not a bad feeling in these strange times we are currently living through.

The second longest track on the album, The Passage, is one of the most rewarding tracks as you journey Through Shaded Woods. This is the darkest Duda gets on the album, with a piece that starts off relatively bright and sparse, working towards the razor-sharp dark metal riffs that propel the powerful middle section.

“I’m thinking out loud
passing former gods
turned into trees
am I in the real life
or am I in the realm of make-believe”

The riffs fall away quickly but the tempo remains high on one of the strongest tracks on the album.

The title track twists and turns, with light percussion underneath the trademark Lunatic Soul harmonies and a feeling of paranoia, amplified by the heavily processed lead vocal. Lycanthropy lingers in the dark forests of Duda’s lyric.

“eyes on every corner
shining in the dark”

As we hit the half-way mark, the mood of Through Shaded Woods lifts. Oblivion has a wonderful drum and guitar interplay, as melodies sneak in and out of the intriguing rhythm arrangement. Where previously synths would have laid the textures, on this album the same effect is offered by vocal layers.

Summoning Dance is the longest track, and as throughout the whole album, it offers up its secrets over repeated plays. The guitars give the main rhythmic thrust, underpinned by a simple kick pulse. I dare you to keep still whilst listening to Summoning Dance. The music hints at a simpler, more pagan and earth-connected time, and works so much better if you give your full attention and immerse yourself in the performance.

“so why do I feel
like I already failed”

Photo: Tomasz Pulsakowski

The Fountain features one of my favourite Mariusz Duda vocal performances. There is a real lightness of touch, and a lovely slightly rasping timbre that suits the aching melancholy of the song perfectly.

“stream of sounds
wash away the darkness from my soul”

Through Shaded Woods stands alone in the Lunatic Soul catalogue. It works so well as a complete body of work, as it flows with more consistency than previous albums. It has quickly seeped into my soul and is one of my favourite albums of 2020.

Navvie [04:03]
The Passage
[08:57]
Through Shaded Woods
[05:51]
Oblivion
[05:03]
Summoning Dance
[09:52]
The Fountain
[06:04]

Bonus tracks contained on disc 2 of the Limited Edition CD:

Vyraj [05:32]
Hylophobia
[03:20]
Transition II
[27:45]





Airbag – All Rights Removed & The Greatest Show on Earth limited edition vinyl re-issues

9 10 2020

Karisma Records are re-issuing Airbag’s All Rights Removed and The Greatest Show on Earth on November 20 2020 on limited edition vinyl, with both albums remastered for vinyl by White Willow / The Opium Cartel’s Jacob Holm-Lupo.

Airbag’s second album All Rights Removed was originally released in 2011. The 2020 remaster is released as a heavyweight double vinyl in gatefold cover, pressed on red vinyl.

The Norwegian band’s third album The Greatest Show on Earth was first released in 2013, and this 2020 heavyweight vinyl remaster is pressed on blue vinyl.

Jacob Holm-Lupo has offered a subtle and sympathetic remaster for vinyl. No brick-walling here – there is no real volume difference, just a little more punch and the synths really sparkle in this redux. This is the best these albums have ever sounded..

All Rights Removed sees the band shift their sound up a gear. The album opener is a heady mix of classic and progressive rock, with guitarist Bjørn Riis rising to the fore on most tracks.

White Walls is full of Dave Gilmour influenced guitar runs and textures, and is one of my favourite songs in the Norwegion band’s catalogue. Dim the lights and turn up the volume.

The mid-section bass, keyboard and guitar prelude before the song kicks back into full power is a joy to experience.

“Cos nothing ever stays the same…”

The tempo remains constant with The Bridge, before the space-rock of Never Coming Home (it reminds me of Signify era Porcupine Tree) leads into the atmospheric instrumental Light Them All Up.

The album closes with one of the band’s most popular tracks (in terms of 1 million Spotify streams) with the 17 and a half minute Homesick. The song is stunning and this is the best I have heard this masterpiece sound. Heading off into Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd territory in the mid-section, this is a journey you really want to take.

The Greatest Show on Earth adds a slight metal element to the band’s palette, on top of their more atmospheric layered sound from previous releases.

Redemption is a slow-burning modern prog piece, with spurts of heavy, gasoline fuelled choruses. Silence Grows moves the intensity down a couple of notches, with a powerful song that would not have sounded out of place on David Gilmour’s On An Island album. The instrumental sections sound amazing thanks to the superb Jacob Holm-Lupo vinyl master.

The Greatest Show on Earth is an album built to be heard in one sitting, and so works best in the vinyl format, when you can give it your full attention, and not break into individual tracks on streaming platforms.

There is a great use of vocal harmonies, atmosphere and restraint to build the mood on the albums second longest track, Call Me Back.

Surveillance (part 2​-​3) is the 16 minute album closer. Taking some of the mood of Porcupine Tree’s Stars Die, Surveillance (part 2​-​3) is a story of isolation and moves from an emotive, quite traditional arrangement to something darker and more experimental as it progresses.

“No need for you to be here
The comfort of my TV screen is all that I need”

All Rights Removed & The Greatest Show on Earth are limited edition releases, so if you missed out on getting these wonderful modern progressive albums on vinyl a few years ago, now is your chance. Links to buy the albums on Burning Shed and Amazon are below.





Moonshot – Worlds of Yesterday: A Moonshot Retrospective 1971 – 1992 album review

31 12 2019

The songs on this Moonshot compilation were lovingly curated by Tim Bowness, whose album Lost In The Ghostlight tells the story of Moonshot through the thoughts and musing of lead singer Jeff Harrison.

* To avoid confusion, some of the songs on this compilation have remarkably similar titles, lyrics and music to tracks released by Tim Bowness on his Moonshot inspired Lost In The Ghostlight album, but Jeff Harrison never ripped anyone off man.

Shortly before his final tour and final death, Moonshot mainman Jeff Harrison took to twitter. His confusion in this new digital playground was plain for all to see, and long-time fans were worried, with good reason. Harrison died in suspicious circumstances in January 2019 and it was his wish that Moonshot continue with John Wilkinson as their singer. John was the singer in Moonshot tribute band Apollo 11, and its his voice that delivers the Moonshot classics on this new Bowness curated compilation.

Listening to Worlds of Yesterday, it’s clear that Big Big Train are heavily indebted to Warrington’s finest sons. And a little progshaped bird once tweeted that rock / prog-pixie Steven Wilson has a whole wing in his Surrey Mansion dedicated to his love of Moonshot, the highlight of which is a room filled with 208 of Jeff Harrison’s moth-ridden stage outfits from the ill-fated Rosewater tour of Germany. If that isn’t an endorsement to the genius of the band and their influence, I don’t know what is.

If any members of Genesis heard Worlds of Yesterday, I have no doubt that they would say that this is the best album that Genesis never made. Or they might sue the band. I’m not sure which route they would take to be honest, but I hear Moonshot have the best lawyers Warrington have ever produced and they are poised to spring into litigious action.

On to the music, dear listeners. Album opener Moonshot Manchild is the tale untold of a rockstar out of time and place, a position the many men of Moonshot were likely familiar with. Musically drawing from early Yes, mid-period Genesis and a hint of late period Martin Lee (Brotherhood of Man).

The flashing lights are blinding, you never felt so old”

Stupid Things That Mean The World draws from the shallow-well of Invisible Touch era Genesis, with spurting and spluttering synths hiding the deep pain clearly felt by our prog protagonists. A veritable ear-worm of a song, with a smorgasbord of vintage keyboards powering the track.

Long-time fans of Moonshot will be familiar with the rare band ballad Worlds of Yesterday. Its the sound of a Moonshot wrestling with the changing times, and was a highlight of their many German and Austrian tours. The song was used in a prominent episode of the 80s German TV hit Helga und die Nordlichter, in case you are wondering where you had heard the tune before. The layers of guitar and keyboards on Worlds of Yesterday highlights the links between the world of progressive music and the 80s new romantic / synth bands.

Lost in the Ghostlight is a close cousin of Peter Gabriel’s The Rhythm of the Heat, but is more satisfying as it is shorter. New vocalist John Wilkinson sneers “is it pure or is it art”, a question we have all asked ourselves at some point. Mike Garson-esque piano lines offer solace from the anger in this perky prog-piece. “Is there moooore?” – yes there is, we are only at the mid-point of this compilation. Well sequenced Mr Bowness.

Fans of Phil Collin’s early solo material will love the Roland CR-78 driven bleak as midwinter Nowhere Good to Go. Apparently the lyrics are an apology to Moonshot fans for the many off-key performances and gigs cut-short during the band’s darkest period, when the album sales slowed to a trickle and Eastern Europe became their new playground. Heartbreaking but long overdue, its one of the album highlights.

Many reviewers, on first hearing The Great Electric Teenage Dream, thought Steve Hackett was the guitarist on the song that lit up Moonshot’s later period. This was never confirmed, denied or mentioned again. Prog magazine wrote a lengthy piece on this pastoral beauty, which was sadly dropped and replaced by news of the reformation of Gandalf’s Hoof in 2016. Out-of-time and out of luck once more, the Moonshot madness continued. Fact fans – the mention of “a faceless tweet” in the lyric does not refer to twitter but to Jeff’s love of Owls.

Before That Before became the band’s biggest hit single in the Netherlands. A stripped back power-ballad, with a heavy use of tambourine and reverb-drenched piano, it should have propelled Harrison and co into a Stadium sized orbit, but alas alimony soaked up the proceeds of Moonshot’s final tilt at immortality. Tears are guaranteed to flow when you hear the mournful guitar lines that preface the chorus.

At the time of release, the backing vocals on Before That Before‘s outro were rumoured to be performed by Kate Bush, but they were not.

The album skips towards its end with the prog as your elbow village-fete romp that is The Sweetest Bitter Pill. The original video (look for it on Youtube) featured Harrison stuck on a merry-go-round, that spun for eternity and made him very, very sick. Listening to this new version of the Moonshot classic, it’s clear the song has become a template for many bands, all of whom went onto great success. It would be nice if they gave a little love back, but we know who they are, and the invoice will be in the post.

The vinyl album ends on Distant Summers, a new version of one of the band’s best-loved songs. Welcome back my friends, and get out your lighters, it’s the show that never ends. Stripped of the need to sell records (because, who buys records anymore?), this is Moonshot at its purest. Heavy organs propel the love, longing and a lifetime of regret into a 4.59 progressive rock masterpiece. Listen young pretenders and weep. I’m looking at you Mr White Willow, Jacob Holm-Lupo.

Oh, and the CD version of the album (it won’t be available on streaming platforms as Jeff Harrison did not understand streaming – “if you can’t touch it, how can you hear it”) includes two bonus tracks. The World-Music inspiring You’ll Be The Silence and the theme medley Moonshot Shadows. Can anyone else hear the theme tune to Hill Street Blues in the opening? Nope, just me then. Craftily cutting out recognisable hooks from their lengthy back-catalogue, Moonshot are able to pay themselves extra-royalties, as Jeff Harrison is not listed as co-writer of this track. Resourceful.

So for anyone new to Moonshot, this is a very satisfying introduction to the band. Fans of Genesis, Yes, Barclay James Harvest, The Buggles, The Alan Parsons Project, Argent, Baccara, BruteBeard, Big Big Train, Caravan, Cloop, Christopher Cross, Genesis, Earth and Fire (but not Wind), Egg, ELP, Marillion, Damp, Frost*, Gabriel (Peter), Steve Hackett, John Hackett, Henry Hackett, Hackett and the North, I, Genesis, Rodeo and the Trapeze Boy, Flute and many more from the heady progressive era will find much to love in this purposeful masterpiece.

Don’t be surprised if Worlds of Yesterday is crowned Prog album of the year 2020. You have got 12 months to listen, digest and vote! Look into my eyes – vote you will.

Tracklisting:

Moonshot Manchild
Stupid Things That mean The World
World of Yesterday
Lost in the Ghostlight
Nowhere Good to Go
The Great Electric Teenage Dream
Before That Before
The Sweetest Bitter Pill
Distant Summers

Bonus Tracks on CD Album
You’ll Be The Silence
Moonshot Shadows

Buy the album (CD and vinyl) from Burning Shed

* Most of the anecdotes in this review are not true. If you are a fan of classic 70s and 80s progressive rock, I urge you to investigate this album. You know you will love it!





Big Big Train – Grand Tour album review

28 04 2019

Big Big Train release their new studio album Grand Tour on May 17th 2019. As with all Big Big Train albums, the songs tell stories that steer clear of the usual topics touched upon in modern rock music. The new album is inspired by the 17th and 18th century custom of the ‘Grand Tour’, where young men and women travelled to broaden the mind.

The band state that the Grand Tour takes you on an “epic journey over land and sea and through time and space…” with songs “…inspired by the legacy of the Italian Renaissance genius, Leonardo da Vinci; songs telling the story of the rise and fall of Rome…and of the shipwreck of a great poet, lost in a tempest off the coast of Italy.”

It’s clear that a great deal of thought has gone into the sequencing of Grand Tour, with clear ebbs and flows as the album progresses. Although there are three lengthy epics as part of Grand Tour, album opener Novum Organum is short, sweet and succinct. A percussive synth bell backing slowly builds as piano and voice enter the soundscape.

“For science and for art”

The albums lead single Alive is an uplifting track that showcases the quality production and intelligent arrangements that filter through on every track. The backing vocals and vocal interplay is a noticeable highlight on Alive and many of Grand Tour‘s tracks. I love the bass and drums duel around the three-quarter mark.

The Florentine features some of the most intricate performances on the album. Around 3 minutes into the track, a naggingly addictive guitar line teases in and out of the strings and Nick D’Virgilio’s intricate drum parts. The outro seemingly has lyrical nods to the Elvis Costello / Clive Langer song (also recorded by Robert Wyatt), Shipbuilding. Or maybe Close Your Eyes by no-man?

Roman Stone is a movement in five pieces, and became one of my favourite tracks on the album after the first few listens. The mood and pace shifts from melancholy progressive textures, to dark jazz interludes, then to a more pastoral (a term you will read in a lot of Big Big Train reviews) and gentle pace. Greg Spawton delivers a masterclass in powerful, and at times restrained, bass playing to underpin a complex, shifting arrangement.

“Trade new gods for old gods”

Pantheon is a haunting instrumental track, and the most progressive performance on the album, with some delicious time-signature twists and turns. Theodora in Green and Gold features soaring Fripp-like guitar lines and David Longdon is joined by Nick D’Virgilio on lead vocals for the middle eight.

Ariel is the longest track, and contains the albums most powerful vocals from David Longdon. The various vocal parts throughout the eight different sections are simply stunning – with warm, multi-part harmonies slipping in and out of the evolving arrangement. By the end of the 14 minute plus track you will be left breathless.

“Laudanum plays the poet’s soul like
Orpheus’ lyre, Prometheus’ fire”

Except there is no respite, with another 14 minute track, in the shape of the gentler Voyager carrying on the story of exploration, this time far away from our planet, lifting off into space.

The changes between the sections on Voyager are more subtle, so it has more of a feel of one continual piece. The orchestration on this track, and indeed the whole album, elevates the bands music to new heights. The feeling of elation as Voyager returns will stay with you long after the song has ended.

As I mentioned earlier, the sequencing is top class. Ariel and Voyager are two long tracks that would not normally be placed side by side on an album, but in this instance placing them together feels right. Fans of Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd are likely to fall madly in love with Voyager, a modern progressive masterpiece.

The theme of a return continues as the album wraps up with Homesong. Feet firmly back on the ground, the song lifts your mood with familiar imagery, and an appreciation of the places and the landscapes that we love.

“We are home now
We have found a way back home”

Grand Tour is an album that rewards you with repeated listens, which is the sign of an album that will stay with you over the long haul. The album has so many strong lyrical, vocal and musical highlights, that picking out a favourite is difficult, but the final three songs are such a powerful statement, and it’s rare for an album to have so many emotional highs in swift succession.

The more I play Grand Tour, the more I become convinced that this will turn into my favourite Big Big Train album so far.

Novum Organum (2:33)
Alive (4:31)
The Florentine (8:14)
Roman Stone (13:33)
Pantheon (6:08)
Theodora in Green and Gold (5:38)
Ariel (14:28)
Voyager (14:03)
Homesong (5:12)

Buy Big Big Train’s Grand Tour on CD from Amazon

Buy Big Big Train’s Grand Tour on vinyl from Amazon

Buy Big Big Train’s Grand Tour on CD from Burning Shed

Buy Big Big Train’s Grand Tour on vinyl from Burning Shed

Visit the Big Big Train website.





Yes – Fly From Here – Return Trip album review

1 04 2018

Fly From Here – Return Trip is a new version of the 2011 Yes album, with the addition of the previously unreleased track Don’t Take No For An Answer and a full-length version of Hour Of Need, which was only previously available in Japan. The biggest change is that producer (and co-writer of many of the tracks) Trevor Horn has re-recorded the lead vocals, effectively making this the final Drama line-up Yes album. Drama is my favourite Yes album, and I am a huge fan of The Buggles, so this was a must-buy release from me.

fly from here return trip

From the opening instrumental that ushers in the Fly From Here suite, the influence of Trevor Horn and keyboard player Geoff Downes (aka The Buggles) looms large, and has many parallels to the second Buggles album, Adventures In Modern Recording.  The 2010 reissue of Adventures in Modern Recording contains a couple of early versions of songs from the Fly From Here suite, and two versions of the stunning track I Am A Camera (recorded by Yes on Drama as Into The Lens).

Fly From Here Pt 1 – We Can Fly is the first track to feature Trevor Horn’s re-recorded lead vocals. I never had a problem with the vocals of Benoît David on the 2011 version of the album, but hearing Horn on lead vocals is such a joy. As a side note, I loved The Producers Made in Basing Street album in 2012 but I was disappointed that Horn did not contribute more vocally to the album, so you can imagine how happy I am with Fly From Here – Return Trip.

The new version has some differences in arrangement and lengths of tracks – which includes a shortening of Fly From Here Pt 1 – We Can Fly, and some added production touches to the end section of the track.

My favourite song on the album is Fly From Here Pt 2 – Sad Night At The Airfield. A haunting, melancholic piece that sounds so much better on the revised version of the album.

“I want to be the one who always gives you shelter
Finds a way to keep you warm”

Some of the albums finest keyboard / synth lines from Geoff Downes add bright colours, and a simple, but powerful Chris Squire bass-line drives the song. This is one of the most moving pieces in the vast Yes catalogue.

Yes 2018

Fly from Here Pt III – Madman at the Screens is also shortened on The Return Trip. The Steve Howe composition Fly From Here Pt 4 – Bumpy Ride has always been my least favourite track on the album, but the Yes guitarist redeems himself with the much stronger The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be, one of Fly From Here‘s key tracks. There is a real fluidity and harmony to all the band members performances on this song.

Life On A Film Set (recorded as Riding A Tide on The Buggles second album) is another of my Fly From Here favourites. Horn’s vocals are so clear and strong, and he really is underrated as a vocalist. I love the acoustic and lead guitar interplay during the tracks mid-section, and Life On A Film Set is a song that I would imagine appeals to fans of the bands earlier work.

I’m glad I have finally got to hear the full-length version of Howe’s Hour of Need, which is so much more fully realised here.

I enjoyed the album on it’s 2011 release, but Fly From Here – Return Trip is the definitive version and has turned what was originally a very good album into a truly great album.

“Armies of angels are leading me on
Take me away from the heart of the storm”

Fly From Here – Overture
Fly From Here Pt 1 – We Can Fly
Fly From Here Pt 2 – Sad Night At The Airfield
Fly From Here Pt 3 – Madman At The Screens
Fly From Here Pt 4 – Bumpy Ride
Fly From Here Pt 5 – We Can Fly (Reprise)
The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be
Life On A Film Set
Hour Of Need (full length version)
Solitaire
Don’t Take No For An Answer
Into The Storm

Buy Fly From Here – Return Trip (CD)

Buy Fly From Here – Return Trip (Gatefold Vinyl)

Read my review of The Producers – Made in Basing Street





Big Big Train – Merry Christmas

2 12 2017

As my favourite time of the year approaches, I always add my Christmas playlist to my phone. Since the late 80s I’ve not had many new tracks to add to the playlist that includes Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime, Jona Lewie’s timeless Stop The Cavalry, December Will Be Magic Again by Kate Bush, Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses and my favourite festive song of them all, Greg Lakes I Believe In Father Christmas.

front cover by Sarah Louise Ewing

Finally, I have two new songs for my most wonderful time of the year playlist courtesy of Big Big Train. The lead song from the single is Merry Christmas and it follows in the tradition of the aforementioned I Believe In Father Christmas and Stop The Cavalry by being a story with a social conscience.

“When did the ringing of tills drown the pealing of bells?
Who cares as long as the products sell?”

David Longdon’s lyrics are a call to arms – reminding us to forget for a short while our commercialism, our faces stuck staring at our phones and asking us to try to remember the innocence and beauty of our memories of Christmas from the past.

“What wouldn’t you give to believe again, like you believed back then?”

Naturally, the music of Merry Christmas has all that you would expect from a future Christmas classic – a choir, brass band and sleigh bells adorn this gem of a song. Watch the heart-warming video, starring Big Big Train fan Mark Benton, below.

Merry Christmas will become a permanent fixture in my seasonal playlist, right before Greg Lake’s Chrimbo classic. They sound great together, by the way.

The vinyl and CD versions contain another new song, the six minute plus Snowfalls. A hymn to winter, its a wonderful companion piece, and really captures the spirit of the season.

“Tread lightly while snow falls from the clouds carried on the cold winds, from far away.”

Its definitely worth buying the physical version to hear Snowfalls, which could easily have graced any of the bands recent albums.

Pic Simon Hogg

Whilst Merry Christmas is limited to a particular time of the year, the Greg Spawton penned Snowfalls has more longevity. Building slowly, the instrumental layers are added as the song builds. The keyboards give the effect of snow falling throughout the track.

Snowfalls is a recording that highlights the bands effective use of dynamics, from the lightest of touches to the powerful crescendo’s that drive many Big Big Train performances.

In the spirit of charity at Christmas, a donation to the Night Stop homelessness charity will be made for every copy of the vinyl, CD, and download sold. So what are you waiting for – the links are below.

The single tops off a very good year for Big Big Train – with the Grimspound and The Second Brightest Star albums, and a short run of successful live shows.

Let me raise a virtual glass to the band – and here’s to some more new music soon…..

Buy the single (CD / vinyl) from:

Burning Shed
The Merchdesk

CD single from Amazon

Vinyl single from Amazon

Buy the digital version of Merry Christma

https://bigbigtrain.bandcamp.com/








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