How do you solve a problem like Spawton?
Yes, that Spawton.
Gregory Marcus Aurelius Spawton.
The guy just doesn’t give an inch. He doesn’t compromise. He doesn’t meet anyone half way. He wants nothing but excellence in a world defined by shoddiness. So, again, how do you solve a problem like Spawton?
What would Harrison Bergeron do?
For years and years, Spawton labored for a vision of true artistic community. And, through much pain and suffering, he achieved it. God bless, Spawton, Longdon, Hall, Gregory, Manners, D’Virgilio, Sjoblom, and Poole.
While I don’t have a physical product in front of me as I type this—the tangible Merchants of Light, though, landed safely in Michigan; I just happen to be in Colorado—I am utterly taken with this live release. Every note makes me want to “see” what’s happening. Did Manners play that or trigger that? And, perhaps, is he possessed by the ghost of Dave Brubeck? Is that bass part played on bass guitar or on keyboard? Does that D’Virgilio guy resemble some long forgotten Roman god of mischievous beats?
You know, those kinds of questions.
So, yes, I’m rather sad I missed the live concert, and I’m sure part of my longing and heartache as I listen to this gorgeous release is nostalgia for what never was for me. For those of you privileged enough to have been in the audience, God bless you, too. There is no band in existence more responsive to its audience than Big Big Train.
Truly, since the release of 2009’s The Underfall Yard, Spawton and Co. have been unstoppable. They’ve defined the entire 3rdwave of prog, and I’m truly thankful that fellow progarchist Carl Olson introduced me to the band nearly a decade ago. From the opening moments of The Underfall Yard, I was hooked, and I’ve remained so ever since That Spawton graciously responded to my initial emails to him was an even greater blessing.
Granted, it might be the advancement of technology, or it might be the audiophilic wizardry of Rob Aubrey, or it might be the sheer power of BBT. . . regardless, the nuances and subtleties of this recording are—at least to me—just astounding. I would expect this kind of detail from a studio recording, but not from a live recording. I’ve only had the album for 24 hours, but I’m enthralled (in a good way—not in the way Morgoth enthralled Beren). I love this album.
Granted, I’m not very good at being critical. Yet, I can state that though I love everything BBT has done since 2009, I’m much more taken with, say, English Electric and Second Brightest Star, than I am with Folklore. That stated, I’m finding the live versions of the songs from Folklore simply outstanding on this release. I find the tracks compelling in a way I didn’t originally.
All of the songs—sixteen total—on Merchants of Light come from the albums or EPs released since 2009. There’s nothing from pre-The Underfall Yard. Given who made this or that BBT album, this choice makes sense. The band is clearly a creative community, playing to its strengths.
One track, however, stands out above all the rest: “A Mead Hall in Winter.” The band is just in full artist mode. When the band plays this song, I’m pretty sure the spheres move just a little more perfectly than perfect. This song is the “mission statement” of the band, and, frankly, of all good persons who seek to make the world just a bit brighter. Or, as the band would put it, we must fight against the “fading light.”
How do we solve a problem like Spawton? We don’t. We pray for seven billion more with his integrity and tenacity.