Big Big Train – Folklore – 2016 – High-Resolution Audio Version
Tracks: Folklore, Along the Ridgeway, Salisbury Giant, London Plane, Mudlarks, Lost Rivers of London, The Transit of Venus Across the Sun, Wassail, Winkie, Brooklands, Telling the Bees
I wasn’t going to review this album. In all honesty, the others at Progarchy who reviewed it have done a much better job than I will. That, and I really didn’t like this album at first. I chalked my initial misgivings as simply, “you can’t win them all.” I figured I would have to accept that nothing else from 2016 would come close to Haken’s Affinity, which I’m still convinced that not much else will.
Admittedly, my first impression upon hearing the CD setlist of the album was, meh. I didn’t like the opening track, as parts of it were too poppy, and I don’t think Big Big Train writes compelling poppy songs. When I saw that “Wassail” was on this album, I was slightly disappointed, since that song grew to grate on me from 2015’s EP. Too much repetition in the chorus. Both “Folklore” and “Wassail” reminded me of “Make Some Noise,” another song that I find tolerable, but wish hadn’t ever been produced by this band. It just doesn’t fit with the rest of their songs. Overall, the track listing didn’t really work. The album didn’t flow, which seemed strange for this band.
My journey as a passenger on the Folklore train did not end there, however. I discovered that the band had another track listing, a definitive one, released as a vinyl record. I saw that it included “Lost Rivers of London” (one of my favorite BBT songs) and “Mudlarks,” another fantastic track. The band also chose to release this track listing as a high-resolution audio download. After annoying Brad for the lossless FLAC files of said hi-res download, I gave the album another shot. I’m glad I did.
Much of what I didn’t like about the initial Folklore was remedied with this definitive version. For one, the audio quality is superb, as it better be when the songs are massive files taking up space on my hard drive. Deep bass and clear highs. The drums are heavenly. It is as if I’m standing next to Nick D’Virgilio’s kick drum at the beginning of “Winkie.” Mmmmmmmm.
The proggy parts of Folklore are now keeping me interested, and the transition into “Along the Ridgeway / Salisbury Giant” works so much better than into “London Plane,” as in the original version. The insertion of “Mudlarks” and “Lost Rivers of London” was genius. Those songs make the album. “Transit of Venus Across the Sun” is sheer BBT brilliance, with amazing vocal harmonies and outstanding work from the brass band. “Wassail” now works for me in this version. I’ve discovered that I particularly enjoy the bridge, and even when the chorus annoys me, it’s just so darn catchy. “Winkie” is BBT storytelling at its finest, and man what a great bassline.
After listening to this definitive track listing several times, I’ve grown to love this album. As Brad mentioned in his review of Folklore, this album is heavily influenced by Jethro Tull’s Songs From the Wood, which is definitely one of Tull’s best albums. The flute work is subtle yet perfect, and I’ve loved violin in rock music ever since I first heard a Kansas song. Indeed, BBT meets Tull at its folksy best and improves upon what Anderson and Co. popularized all those years ago. Even the artwork of the album reinforces the mystery and folkish aspects of the music.
[Side note: 4 albums I ordered from BBT’s website just arrived in the mail. Props to the band for including Progarchy’s Brad Birzer and Lady Alison in their Folklore booklet thank yous :)]
In short, I’m glad I listened to the hi-res version of this album, because otherwise I may have simply written Folklore off as a “nice try but not quite there” album. In its definitive format, this album soars. Sadly, the band felt the need to release this album in multiple formats, much like they did with English Electric. I didn’t become a fan of BBT until after Full Power came out, so I didn’t deal with the frustration of deciding which version was “the one” to listen to. It is frustrating to see the band making a habit out of releasing different versions of their albums. Please stick to one version for your next album, please. I think I speak for a majority of fans with that request.
Other than that, the definitive version of Folklore is a winner, and it is sure to rank highly on my best of 2016 list. Where the original version of the album lacks, the vinyl/hi-res track listing excels. May the train carry ever onward.