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Big Big Train “The Likes Of Us” album review by Banyon G.

Big Big Train

Big Big Train is back with their 15th studio album, their first official one with new lead singer Alberto Bravin.  The band were dealt a tragic blow in November 2021 with the sudden death of highly regarded lead singer and co-writer David Longdon (my heartfelt condolences to his family and friends).   In time – and knowing David would have wanted them to continue – the band chose to resume touring and recording in 2022 and 2023, building upon their legacy and extending it into the future.  To that end, they made a few key changes including partnering with Alberto Bravin, a former member of the Italian band Premiata Forneria Marconi.    This album “The Likes Of Us” was in fact recorded in a studio in Bravin’s hometown of Trieste, Italy. 

Another big change with BBT is that after almost two decades of self-publishing their albums, “The Likes Of Us” is their first to be released on a major label.   Their new partnership is with InsideOut Music, a division of Sony Music.  InsideOut is home to top prog rock artists like Steve Hackett, Devin Townsend, The Flower Kings, Haken, Neal Morse, Yes, Kansas, Jethro Tull, Transatlantic, King’s X, Dream Theater, Riverside, Leprous, and many others.  The higher profile of being on a major prog label should help the band gain more exposure.

Anyone who has seen the band live recently or who has heard the singles from this album (“Oblivion,” “Love Is The Light,” “Last Eleven,” and “Miramire”) will notice straight away that Alberto Bravin has his own voice and does not sound like David Longdon.  That was a deliberate decision on the part of the band, as they did not want a clone.   And from the first song here we can tell that the dynamics of the band have changed, as the overall feel of the music has shifted to a more polished, accessible type of prog rock sound.  The music has a lighter, more lyrical feel overall with less bombast and orchestration compared to past works.  This is not at all a bad thing – in fact, it’s quite good.  Just different from what I was expecting.   Stylistically it is more reminiscent of Kansas than of Genesis.   Compared to say, a song like “East Coast Racer” (from prior album Ingenious Devices), there is a sharper, more accessible ‘rock’ emphasis here.   There is still a lot of complex ensemble playing, but the kind of Genesis-style, elongated vocal melodies over sustained keyboard swells that characterized some of their past output seems to have been streamlined here. 

It took me a few listens to really get into this album because I did not know what to make of it at first.  It has a very elegant, graceful feel to it.   You can tell that the band are trying to convey beauty and emotion using a variety of textures, from vocal harmonies to acoustic guitar and piano, and traditional brass in addition to the usual electric instrumentation. 

The vocal expressiveness of Alberto Bravin contributes to this.  David Longdon had a keen sense of the theatrical with a wide range and an expressive voice that recalled the best aspects of Peter GabrielMr. Bravin also has a broad range and is versatile but seems more comfortable in a gentler tenor that reminds me of Dan Fogelberg at times (Don’t roll your eyes – “Netherlands” is a killer album, recorded before Mr. Fogelberg’s music became too sappy).

That becomes evident from the first song “Light Left In The Day,” a very Kansas-meets-Yes style instrumental that leads directly into “Oblivion,” one of the harder-rocking and catchier songs on the album.  This second song is where Mr. Bravin shows his ability to really stretch out, while the band juggles some tricky rhythms and choral vocals.

The next two songs have a more subtle, more pastoral feel while still maintaining a range of emotional expressiveness.   “Beneath The Masts” is a 17+ minute tour-de-force that is reminiscent of Kansas meets Transatlantic by way of Styx, with some labyrinthian guitar and violin solos.  “Skates On” has a similar feel to it, while being less than half the length.  Both songs really give Aberto the chance to stretch out and show what he is capable of. 

Every song so far has its own charms.  However, it is 3 of the last 4 songs that are the real stunners here – starting with “Miramare,” an incredible 10+ minute epic track that is truly the highlight of an otherwise terrific album.   It starts with choral vocals and acoustic piano before launching into a punchy rhythm that serves as the backdrop for some wonderful vocal melodies – eventually turning darker and more “proggy” at the 6-minute mark.  Truly a masterpiece of a song.

Love Is The Light” is where the Dan Fogelberg comparisons really come to play.   Very accessible song with a smart, soft rock stylishness.   Quite a beautiful song. 

Bookmarks” is another slower, more intimate number, just not as distinct as the previous song.  “Last Eleven” is a punchy, spirited rock number in the vein of Kansas.

Bands like BBT tend to evolve over time and explore new sounds and styles and motifs, and they have changed to a degree with this album.   Even before the sudden death of David Longdon, they were slowly moving in a different direction.  With this new line-up, it should not be surprising that they are exploring new moods and textures and styles.  Yes, one could say that their sound has become more “Americanized” on this release.   How the listener feels about that will depend on what one’s expectations and degree of flexibility are.  Overall, I like the more refined, intimate approach that the band is exploring here.   While I would have appreciated another song in the vein of “Miramare,” I am only glad that the band has continued to grace us with their creative spirit and talents.

Banyon’s rating: 8.75 / 10

Pre order your copy HERE

Big Big Train album cover

Tracklist:

1.Light Left In The Day 06:10
2.Oblivion 05:27
3.Beneath The Masts 17:26
4.Skates On 04:28
5.Miramare 10:17
6.Love Is The Light 06:11
7.Bookmarks 06:23
8.Last Eleven 07:55

BIG BIG TRAIN:
ALBERTO BRAVIN – Lead vocals, guitar, keyboards
NICK D’VIRGILIO – Drums, percussion, vocals, 12-string acoustic guitar, vocals
DAVE FOSTER – Guitars
OSKAR HOLLDORFF – Keyboards, vocals
CLARE LINDLEY – Violin, vocals
RIKARD SJÖBLOM – Guitars, keyboards, vocals
GREGORY SPAWTON – Bass guitar, bass pedals, 12-string acoustic guitar, Mellotron

BIG BIG TRAIN online:
www.bigbigtrain.com
https://www.facebook.com/bigbigtrain/
https://twitter.com/bigbigtrain

www.instagram.com/bigbigtrain

The band have also just announced UK & European tour dates for September/October 2024. The full list of dates is below:
 
17th September – Wyvern Theatre, Swindon, UK
18th September – The Riverfront, Newport, UK
19th September – Playhouse Theatre, Whitley Bay, UK
21st September – Queens Hall, Edinburgh, UK
22nd September – Palace Theatre, Newark, UK
24th September – Stables Theatre, Milton Keynes, UK
25th September – The Stoller Hall, Manchester, UK
27th September – Stadthalle, Weinheim, Germany
28th September – Boerderij, Zoetermeer, Netherlands
29th September – Boerderij, Zoetermeer, Netherlands
1st October – Cosmopolite, Oslo, Norway
2nd October – Viften, Copenhagen, Denmark
 
The band will also perform for the first ever time in the USA in March 2024, including an appearance on Cruise To The Edge. The full list of shows can be found below:
 
1st March – Sweetwater Performance Theatre, Fort Wayne, Indiana (sold out)
2nd March – Rivoli Theater at the Williams Center, Rutherford, New Jersey
3rd March – Rivoli Theater at the Williams Center, Rutherford, New Jersey
5th March – Regent Theatre, Arlington (Boston), Massachusetts
6th March – Electric City, Buffalo, New York
8th-13th March – Cruise To The Edge (sold out)
 
The band have also confirmed two summer 2024 festival appearances at the final Night of the Prog Festival in Germany on 21st July, and Cropredy Festival in the UK on 9th August.
 
Ticket links for all shows are at www.bigbigtrain.com/live

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