Big Big Train’s “Grimspound” – A Review

I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of listening to Big Big Train’s latest work, “Grimspound,” for a few weeks prior to its release, and it’s taken me as much time to figure out exactly what it is.

This isn’t about whether or not the music is good…oh, it’s good. Very good. It’s an absolute must-buy for Big Big Train “passengers,” both new and returning.

With each subsequent listen, I kept asking myself:

  • Is this merely a collection of leftover songs from what had to be a creative outburst when “Folklore” took shape?
  • Is this sort of a “Folklore Part 2?”
  • Is this a standalone album altogether?
  • Is this part of a much bigger canon of releases?

I’ve decided that the answer clearly isn’t “a collection of leftover songs” and it’s not really “Folklore 2,” but you could argue for the other two points.

Anyway, that’s just a frame on the picture. Let’s delve through the music, shall we?

Continue reading “Big Big Train’s “Grimspound” – A Review”

John Wetton: 12 June 1949 – 31 January 2017 – A Personal Appreciation

Many who follow prog and rock in general woke to the news that John Wetton, singer and bassist for such bands as King Crimson, UK and Asia, passed away after a long, courageous battle with colon cancer.

I know that many others here will write something far more in-depth and eloquent that I will at this time, but this is a heartbreaker for me.

I cut my teeth on prog in 1981 with Rush’s “Moving Pictures,” and a year later I heard Asia for the first time.  I was immediately taken with how these then-mysterious prog musicians – I hadn’t heard Yes, ELP or Crimson at that point – had managed to pack a ton of playing into a tight song format, and to this day, Asia’s debut album remains one of my four all-time favorite albums.

Of course, while Steve Howe, Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer supplied most of the busy playing in Asia, John Wetton anchored the group with his steady bass playing and, of course, that VOICE.

After following Asia for most of the 80’s, a friend and bandmate clued me in to what Wetton had been up to just before Asia, and that was my introduction to UK.  Just a stellar group of musicians who created a pair of fine albums and one exceptional live album, and I listen to their work often.

I’ll admit to not absorbing much of what Wetton did prior to UK, which we all know was Family, Uriah Heep, Crimson, Roxy Music, Eno, and others, but for me, Wetton’s presence in UK and Asia alone formed much of the soundtrack to my youth.

Since the 90’s, I’ve kept only a periphery eye on Wetton’s career as he returned to solo work, worked with Downes in Icon, reunited with Asia and UK, and worked with District 97, but I’ve always appreciated him and his career trajectory.

Like so many, I was saddened by the news that Wetton was being treated for cancer and closely followed him online during his battle.  I so hoped he would be healthy enough to perform at the 2017 Cruise to the Edge…not because I was attending, but it seemed that it was serving as inspiration for him during his recovery, and I was crushed for him when he recently announced that he couldn’t attend.

I spent much of my day going back through various Asia, UK, Crimson and solo tracks, and will no doubt spend more time in the future simultaneously mourning John, sending thoughts to his family, friends and bandmates, and celebrating the man’s “extraordinary life.”

My Top 8 Yes Abums

Seeing that I haven’t been absorbing a lot of new prog (Oh! The Horror!), I’ve spent most of 2016 happily revisiting my favorite prog (and proggy pop) from the past.  As I’ve written before, I’m at that age where 40 years’ worth of my favorite music is such that anything new really has to fight for a place among my listening.  However, with a community as great as this one, I’ve all the faith in the world that really good prog will find me, not the other way around.

2016 treated us not only to the further touring adventures of Yes, but also to the touring wonder that is Anderson Rabin Wakeman, which by most accounts was a wonderful tour, and I do hope that 2017 will see some original music from the lineup.

Inspired by Sir Thaddeus of Wert’s Top 10 Yes albums list, I just couldn’t resist compiling my own list of favorites from the boys.  I thought it’d be easy to name 10, but I quickly found that I just can’t; I would only be trying to round out the list by including some albums of theirs I like for maybe one or two songs at best, so why not list my true favorites?

Ahem…

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8. Talk

Like many who salivated at the news of a YesWest reunion in the early 90’s, I bought “Talk” as quickly as possible on release day.  The album’s bookend tracks – “The Calling” and “Endless Dream” – make this a top 10 record for me. Throw in the well-written “Walls,” and it’s a solid effort, despite a few tracks I can live without.

Continue reading “My Top 8 Yes Abums”

Review: Frost* – “Falling Satellites”

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No matter their level of activity, all’s right in the prog world when the on again/off again ensemble known as Frost* is in “On” mode.  Many of us have closely – and happily – followed the twists and turns of writer/keyboardist/vocalist Jem Godfrey’s group since they released the landmark album “Milliontown” back in 2006.

For those who may not have been exposed to the band back then, “Milliontown” was something altogether new, or at least sounded altogether new – an accessible, expertly-produced, keyboard-heavy, dense, dynamic, and at times industrial-sounding blend of prog rock not for the faint of speaker cones. It was not to be mistaken for yet another prog band channeling the 70’s with all the cliches that go with that era (band names withheld to protect the guilty). As a fan of modern prog, “Milliontown” easily became one of two of my favorite albums of the last 15 years – the other being It Bites’ “The Tall Ships” – and not a week has gone by in the last decade when I haven’t given at least some of “Milliontown” a listen (no, really).

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25-Plus Years of “Ritual de lo Habitual”

I never got grunge.

Yes, it was, I suppose, some sort of “what’s next” to follow the hair metal sound of the late 80’s that had more than run its course, and I did appreciate some of the music that Pearl Jam made – Vedder has a voice for the ages – but to me, grunge wasn’t alternative, and to me, Nirvana was nowhere near being the alternative band of its time, no matter how many albums they sold or however much people wanted to hold up Kurt Cobain as some sort of “voice of a generation.”

The real alternative band of the time was Jane’s Addiction.

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As you’ll read in this track-by-track Rolling Stone article from last year (link below), they were influenced by classic rock bands, prog groups (Rush, Genesis and Floyd are cited) and some alternative groups,  but Jane’s Addiction’s blend of rock was something different – even dangerous – during their time.

Prog? Nah.

However, they could write epic tracks when so moved – check out “Three Days” or “Ted, Just Admit It” from “Nothing’s Shocking” – and to me, they were always ascribing to create art with their music.  A parallel with The Doors was cited, and that’s probably not far off the mark.

Their first album (a live effort), “Nothing’s Shocking” and “Ritual de lo Habitual” are a trifecta of heavy, alternative, artistic rock. The latter two remain in my 100 all-time favorite albums list and still sound great today.

Click here to check out the article.

 

 

 

VIDEO: “Heartstrings” by Frost*

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a decade (!) since the release of “Milliontown” by Frost*.  It was an album that seemingly came out of nowhere and didn’t sound quite like anything in the genre – a dense, dynamic, keyboard-heavy, and at times industrial-sounding album full of killer playing and plenty of memorable melodies.

The brainchild of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jem Godfrey, “Milliontown” remains one of my all-time favorite albums. I’m not sure a week has gone by in those 10 years without my giving at least one or more tracks from it a listen. Since then, the band released a follow-up album, “Experiments In Mass Appeal,” played quite a few gigs, went through some lineup changes over the years in the rhythm section department, released a couple live albums and bonus tracks, and has been an on-again, off-again unit since “Experiments.”

Well, the band is very much on again as Godfrey, John Mitchell (It Bites, Arena, Kino), bassist Nathan King (Level 42) and drummer Craig Blundell (Steven Wilson of late) have recorded “Falling Satellites,” their third full-length album and first in nearly eight years.

Never a group to do the obvious thing – a look at their many “Frost* Reports” and live videos kicking around YouTube will more than prove that point – the Frosties gathered at Rockfield Studios several years back to record some of their tunes live off the floor.  One of those tracks,”Heartstrings,” is well known in the Frostiverse, but will see its studio debut on “Falling Satellites,” which will be released May 27th.

(By the way, it’s not like you need me to connect any prog dots for you, but if Rockfield Studios sounds somewhat familiar, it could be because Rush recorded “A Farewell To Kings” and “Hemispheres”at the Wales-based studio)

Taken from “The Rockfield Files” DVD, Godfrey excerpted and posted this beautifully-shot and edited video for “Heartstrings” earlier this week. Enjoy!