Three Colours Dark, Love’s Lost Property

Collaborating as Three Colours Dark, vocalist Rachel Cohen and keyboardist/guitarist Jonathan Edwards made one of my favorite albums of last year. The Science of Goodbye remains a subtle, broodingly elegant debut, spinning a harrowing narrative of escape from both a toxic relationship and inner captivity. TCD’s welcome follow-up, Love’s Lost Property, doesn’t hesitate to ask the obvious questions: what now? How to deal with lingering pain? How to move forward? And in what direction?

The opener/title track sets up the premise. Standing with a ex-lover in the rubble of their broken relationship, Cohen wonders whether things could be different: “Versions of us/Love’s lost property is now in safer hands/Laws of motion proved/Let the light in, let the light in.” Kicking off with bittersweet lines from violinist Kate Ronconi and featuring stinging guitar solos from Tim Hammill and Dave Gregory, “Love’s Lost Property” looks back on the road taken and the damage done in a deliberate, leisurely unrolling musical arc.

“Dark Before Dawn” kicks into an uptempo, acoustic-driven shuffle, complete with countrified Gregory solo work and supple vocal harmonies, as Cohen encourages herself to move on, though the way is still uncertain. Pulled up short by the bitter memories of “Requiem” (beautifully cradled in a soundscape featuring Edwards on piano, Catherine Tanner-Williams on oboe and Andrew Coughlan on double bass), Cohen elegizes love lost in the soaring chorus of “Last Day on Earth” — then pivots to the reluctant but adamant kiss-offs “Wish I Wished You Well” (with more standout violin work) and “The Circus” (a masterclass in the art of the endless Floydian build-up).

As on The Science of Goodbye, it’s a cover that snaps Love’s Lost Property into sharp focus — in this instance, Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World.” Resplendent with Gregory’s 12-string and Ronconi’s lead work, it’s elevated by Cohen’s steely determination as she bites into the chorus (“But I won’t cry for yesterday/There’s an ordinary world somehow I have to find/And as I try to make my way to the ordinary world/I will learn to survive”) then soars into vocalese over violin licks. Then Gregory takes the whole thing even higher, and Edwards caps it off with a lyrical synth solo as the track fades. Whew!

Her journey’s path set, Cohen can move on at last in the emotional tour de force “Eye for An Eye.” Accepting herself, her former partner, the pain given and caused, and all the consequences, her vocals constantly grow in power and focus, feeding off and setting up Steve Simmons’ emotive saxophone work, Edwards’ cinematic synths backing and a wrenching Hammill solo. The whole thing builds to a shattering climax — then gracefully collapses into a “Reprise” of the title track, a perfect bookend to the album.

The shock of the new may have worn off for fans of Three Colours Dark, but the deep emotional content and musical gravity of this second effort are more than adequate compensation; Love’s Lost Property is another marvelously coherent song cycle that gets stronger as it unfolds. Cohen, Edwards and friends get full marks for their vivid, heartfelt portrayal of the comforting, wounding, uniting, dividing magnificence and terror of fallible love in a fallen world.

Love’s Lost Property is exclusively available on CD from Burning Shed or as a digital download from Bandcamp.

— Rick Krueger

The Fall 2021 Box Set Bonanza

As previously promised, a look at the big reissues landing in the next few months — especially those available in one or more box set formats. Ordering links are embedded in the artist/title listings below.

Out Now:

The Beach Boys, Feel Flows – The Sunflower and Surf’s Up Sessions, 1969-1971: between their initial impact and their imperial phase as timeless purveyors of fun fun fun, Brian Wilson and his family pursued heaviness and relevance in a market that thought it had outgrown them — at least for the moment. This slice of the Boys’ catalog features less slick, more homespun takes on their timeless concerns (the same amount of girls, less cars, more daily life), with Wilson brothers Dennis (on Sunflower) and Carl (on Surf’s Up) taking the lead. The brilliant moments — “This Whole World,” “Forever,” “Long Promised Road,” “Til I Die” for starters — outweigh the embarrassingly dated ones, and music to make you smile is never too long in coming. Available from The Beach Boys’ webstore as 2 CDs, 5 CDs, 2 LPs or 4 LPs (colored vinyl).

BeBop Deluxe, Live in the Air Age: when Bill Nelson’s avant-glam guitar heroics didn’t generate bigger record sales, a live album was the next obvious move for this sterling British quartet. Better chart positions weren’t forthcoming, but 1977’s Live in the Air Age is an exquisite slab of BBD at work — Chuck Berry updated for the Apollo era, with a bit of Bowie/Mercury panache in Nelson’s vocals and blazing solos aplenty. Available from Esoteric Recordings as 3 CDs (adding the complete 1977 London concert) or 15 CDs/1 DVD (adding all surviving recordings from the 1977 British tour and a live television special).

George Harrison, All Things Must Pass: the quiet Beatle exploded on his first album after the Fabs’ breakup, immersing his radiant devotional compositions in Phil Spector’s patented Wall of Sound and drafting Ringo, Badfinger and the embryonic Derek and the Dominoes as his rock orchestra. The new remix scales back the symphonic swirl, brings forward George’s vocals, and gives the rhythm section a kick in the pants; just right to these ears. A serious contender for the single best solo Beatle album, well worth an immersion course. Available from the Harrison webstore in Standard (2 CDs or 3 LPs — limited colored vinyl available as well), Deluxe (3 CDs or 5 LPs), Super Deluxe (5 CDs/BluRay or 8 LPs) and Uber Deluxe (5 CDs/BluRay/8 LPs/various bespoke gimcracks/”artisan wooden crate” — you don’t wanna know what it costs) editions.

The Elements of King Crimson – 2021 Tour Box: the 7th annual compilation of tidbits from the Discipline Global Mobile archives, doubling as a concert program. This year’s selection of rarities focuses on the nine drummers that have called King Crimson their musical home (sometimes two or three of them at once). Studio snippets – like the one with Fripp, John Wetton on bass and Phil Collins on drums – live tracks, oddities, previews of coming attractions, and more. Available from Burning Shed or on Crimson’s current USA tour.

Lee Morgan, The Complete Live at the Lighthouse: never a mass media superstar, Morgan was nonetheless a jazz icon — one of the finest trumpeters of his day who played with heroes of the music like Art Blakey and John Coltrane, recorded more than 20 albums as a leader for Blue Note Records, and even managed to score a Top 25 pop hit with his funky “The Sidewinder.” This box (another product of jazz archivist Zev Feldman’s boundless energy) sets forth an entire weekend’s worth of recordings by Morgan and his dedicated, powerful 1970 band. Bennie Maupin on reeds, Harold Mabern on piano, Jymie Merritt on bass and Mickey Roker on drums bring the sophisticated, challenging compositions and spirited solos and backing; Morgan takes it from there, lyrical and fiery in turn. This is a great potential entry point if you want to explore jazz as a newbie, and a serious desert island possiblility for those already into the music. Available from Blue Note’s webstore as 8 CDs or 12 LPs.

Clive Nolan and Rick Wakeman, Tales by Gaslight: keyboardists Nolan (Pendragon, Arena) and Wakeman (Yes, Strawbs) box up their out-of-print concept albums Jabberwocky (with dad Rick W. reciting Lewis Carroll’s nonsense verse) and The Hound of the Baskervilles, adding a bonus disc collecting rough drafts of a 3rd album based on Frankenstein. Separate booklets and art prints for each of the 3 CDs included. Theatrical as all get out, and surprisingly good fun if you’re in the mood for Victorian-flavored melodrama. Available from Burning Shed.

September:

Bob Dylan, Springtime in New York – The Bootleg Series, Volume 16, 1980-1985: Outtakes, alternate versions, rehearsals, live performances and more from the era that yielded Dylan’s albums Shot of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque. Out September 17; pre-order from Dylan’s webstore and elsewhere in the following formats: 2 LP Highlights, 2 CD Highlights or 5 CDs complete. (There’s also a subscriber-only 4 LP set from Jack White’s Third Man Records.)

Marillion, Fugazi: the band’s 1984 album, perceived as a “sophomore slump” at the time, is much more than a bridge between the feral debut Script for A Jester’s Tear and the early masterwork Misplaced Childhood, with plenty of gripping moments to recommend it. A new remix by Andy Bradfield and Avril Mackintosh compensates handily for the production nightmares recounted in this deluxe edition’s copious notes. Also includes a complete live set from Montreal; the CD/BluRay version adds bonus tracks, documentaries, and a Swiss television concert. Out September 10; pre-order from Marillion’s webstore as 4 CDs/BluRay or 4 LPs.

Van der Graaf Generator, The Charisma Years, 1970-1978: VDGG may have shared the stage with Genesis in each band’s formative years, but they were a thoroughly different beast. Peter Hammill’s desperate existential narratives and the wigged out instrumental web woven by David Jackson, Hugh Banton and Guy Evans made for a unique, highly combustible chemistry — bonkers dystopian sci-fi narrative over free jazz one moment, serenely soaring hymns to human potential the next. This 17 CD/3 BluRay set collects the band’s 8 studio albums from the Seventies, adding extensive BBC sessions, a live show from Paris, all surviving television appearances “and more.” Now available from Burning Shed; the four newly remastered albums in this box (H to He Who Am the Only One, Pawn Hearts, Godbluff and Still Life) are available as separate CD/DVD sets for those wanting a lower priced introduction to this underrated band’s indescribably stirring music.

October:

The Beatles, Let It Be: the Fab Four’s star-crossed attempt to return to their roots – recording live in front of movie cameras – ultimately became their first post-break-up release, drenched with Phil Spector’s orchestral overdubs to cover the rough spots. With a new 6-hour Peter Jackson documentary on the sessions hitting Disney Plus Thanksgiving weekend, Apple unleashes a fresh stereo remix (the 4th in the series that kicked off with Sgt. Pepper’s 50th anniversary). Super Deluxe versions also include 27 sessions tracks, a 4-track EP and a test mix of Get Back, the proposed original version of the album. Out October 15th; pre-order from the Fabs’ webstore in Standard (1 CD or 1 LP), Deluxe (2 CDs with selected bonus tracks) and Super Deluxe (4 CDs/1 BluRay or 4 LP/1 EP) editions. (The companion book of photos and transcribed conversations from the sessions, Get Back, is released on October 12.)

Emerson Lake and Palmer, Out of This World – Live (1970-1997): a compilation of key live shows in ELP’s history: their 1970 debut at the Isle of Wight Festival; a career peak show at the 1974 California Jam; the 1977 full-orchestra extravaganza at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium; 1992’s comeback concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall; and a previously unreleased 1997 show from Phoenix, Arizona. Out October 29; pre-order from ImportCDs as 7 CDs or 10 LPs.

Joni Mitchell, Archives , Volume 2 – The Reprise Years (1968-1971): more archival recordings from the early days of Mitchell’s recording career. Home and studio demos, outtakes, unreleased songs, her Carnegie Hall debut and much more — a complete acoustic set recorded by a enraptured Jimi Hendrix, anyone? Out October 29; pre-order from Mitchell’s webstore on 5 CDs or 10 LPs (4000 copies only), The Carnegie Hall concert is available separately on 3 LPs (black or white vinyl).

Pink Floyd, A Momentary Lapse of Reason (Remixed and Updated): the 2019 remix of Floyd’s post-Roger Waters comeback from the opulent The Later Years box, now available on its own. “Sounds less like the 1980s, more like classic Floyd” is the party line here. Out October 29; pre-order from Floyd’s webstore in 1 CD, CD/DVD, CD/BluRay or 2 LP formats.

November:

Genesis, The Last Domino? Yet another compilation of Genesis’ greatest hits, fan favorites and core album cuts, released just in time for with their first US tour in 14 years. No real surprises in the track selection, but the promise of “new stereo mixes” of four Gabriel-era classics is intriguing. Out November 19; pre-order from Genesis’ webstore on 2 CDs or 4 LPs. (The UK version of this compilation, out September 17, sports a slightly different track list.)

Elvis Presley, Back in Nashville: the King’s final sessions in Music City, stripped of overdubs a la last year’s From Elvis in Nashville box, that yielded material for three years worth of albums. 82 tracks encompassing country/folk, pop, religious music and Christmas music. Out November 12; pre-order from the Presley webstore on 4 CDs or 2 LPs.

In the Works (release date forthcoming):

Robert Fripp, Exposures: another exhaustive (and potentially exhausting) set from Discipline Global Mobile. This one promises to cover Fripp’s “Drive to 1981,” including his guest-star-heavy solo debut Exposure, the ambient Frippertronics of God Save the Queen and Let the Power Fall, and the egghead dance music of Under Heavy Manners and The League of Gentlemen. Tons of live gigs promised to supplement rarities and studio outtakes.

Marillion, Holidays in Eden: the new Marillion album (now officially titled An Hour Before It’s Dark) may push this further back on the release schedule, but Steve Hogarth’s second effort with the boys (an intriguing effort that tried and failed to go commercial) is next up for the deluxe reissue treatment.

Porcupine Tree, Deadwing: a promised deluxe set in the vein of 2020’s In Absentia. Internet gossip flared up when Steven Wilson, Steve Barbieri and Gavin Harrison were rumored to have reset the band’s legal partnership earlier this year; who knows how or when the Tree may blossom again?

Renaissance, Scheherezade and Other Stories: coming from Esoteric Recordings, the folk-prog quintet’s finest hour in the studio, melding orchestral grace with an Arabian Nights theme for the half-hour title track. If this is in the vein of other recent Renaissance issues, hope for a multi-disc set with a bonus live set and a surround remix.

— Rick Krueger

King Crimson in Concert: A Love Letter on the Occasion of – A Final Hot Date?

Robert Fripp, resplendent with mohawk, at August 28th’s Royal Package presentation.

A studio album is a love letter. And I enjoy love letters, especially when they’re from my wife. But live music … (looking to the heavens with a sigh) I’ll always go for the clinches.

Robert Fripp, King Crimson Royal Package presentation

King Crimson, Meadow Brook Amphitheatre, Rochester Hills, Michigan, August 28, 2021

Following an opening set from The Zappa Band that showcased Frank Zappa’s lifelong trademarks — smug, satirical vignettes enfolded in gleefully virtuosic workouts — King Crimson went straight for the clinches. The rock (as in the opener “Pictures of A City” and “Radical Action II”) rocked hard; the metal (including “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part Two” and “Level Five”) was remorselessly heavy; the out there material (“Neurotica” and “Indiscipline,” played back to back) went waaaaay out there; the more intricate music (the opening multi-part drum trio, along with “Discipline,” a welcome surprise in the setlist) shone with both precision and passion.

Left to right: Mel Collins, Tony Levin, and Jakko Jakszyk groove on “Neurotica,” as Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison wait to pounce. Photo by King Crimson manager David Singleton. Click here to access Singleton’s online diary for the show.

To be fair, the genres — along with the era a song may have come from — are never that clear cut with this Crimson, even within individual pieces. The mid-section of “Pictures of A City” saw Mel Collins pushing at the boundaries of tonality with his sax solo, egged on by Robert Fripp’s banjo-from-hell guitar chords. Tony Levin’s inventive bass lines on “The Court of the Crimson King,” “Red” and “Larks Two” honored the original work of Greg Lake and John Wetton while adding his own spin to spur on Collins and Fripp. And the drum battle that opens “Indiscipline” turned into a comedic cutting contest, as Pat Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison moved from flashing their chops to cracking up each other with their contributions. (Harrison’s deadpan disco snippet got the audience laughing too.) By treating everything as brand new, the band gracefully transcends the multiple eras in which these varied musics were birthed.

With a shorter setlist than recent tours and fewer surprise choices in the mix, what stood out for me this evening were the ballads — “The Court of the Crimson King,” “Islands,” “Epitaph” and “Starless”. Even the two guys sitting in back of me who talked through a good chunk of the show shut up for them! Vocalist/guitarist Jakko Jakszyk stood and delivered, drawing old emotions and new insights from the lyrics as he sang. And the ensemble coalesced around him with palpable intensity, cradling the vocals, then conjuring up the ironic circus of “Court,” the serene seascape of “Islands” (kudos to Stacey for his luscious piano work), the bleak cultural devastation of “Epitaph.” The endlessly mounting tension of “Starless” was, as always, a high point — melancholy and uplifting at the same time, grabbing for the audience’s heart as it built and cracking psyches wide open as the double time finale took flight. After that, what could be the encore but a slamming “21st Century Schizoid Man,” complete with Levin prodding Fripp and Collins to even greater extremes and a kit-spanning drum excursion by Harrison?

The band takes a bow following “Starless.” Photo by King Crimson manager David Singleton.

I make no secret of my admiration for King Crimson; Robert Fripp and his various co-conspirators have formed my ideal of the questing musician’s life and work since I stumbled into a Frippertronics record store show back in 1979. And I’ve never hesitated to sing the praises of the current Crimson incarnation; their 2017 and 2019 tours yielded two of the best rock concerts I’ve ever attended. So it moved me that, with the COVID-19 pandemic delaying this show for a year and throwing numerous obstacles in their path, Crimson could return to the States and provide another genuinely awe-inspiring evening for the thousands gathered in this Detroit-area amphitheatre. Never say never; but if (as Crimson’s management has stated) this may the final time the band plays North America, I’m convinced that we shall not see their like again.

Band and audience seen in 360 degrees at the final bow. Photo by Tony Levin; click here to access his online diary for this show.

Setlist (as assembled by Robert Fripp):

  • Drumsons – Bish! The Way to Universal Peace and Amity
  • Pictures of A City
  • Red
  • The Court of the Crimson King (with coda)
  • Tony (Levin bass) Cadenza’s Wernacious Slitheriness
  • Discipline
  • Neurotica
  • Indiscipline
  • Islands
  • Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part Two
  • Epitaph
  • Radical Action II
  • Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part Five (Level Five)
  • Starless
  • 21st Century Schizoid Man (including Gavin Harrison drum solo)

— Rick Krueger

The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2021!

What new music and archival finds are heading our way in the next couple of months? Check out the representative sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with a few other personal priorities — below. (Box sets based on reissues will follow in a separate article!) Pre-order links are embedded in the artist/title listings below.

Out now:

Amanda Lehmann, Innocence and Illusion: “a fusion of prog, rock, ballads, and elements of jazz-blues” from the British guitarist/vocalist best known as Steve Hackett’s recurring sidekick. Available direct from Lehmann’s webstore as CD or digital download.

Terence Blanchard featuring the E-Collective and the Turtle Island Quartet, Absence: trumpeter/film composer Blanchard dives into music both written and inspired by jazz legend Wayne Shorter. His E-Collective supplies cutting edge fusion grooves, and the Turtle Island String Quartet adds orchestral depth to the heady sonic concoctions. Available from Blue Note Records as CD or digital download.

The Neal Morse Band, Innocence and Danger: another double album from Neal, Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Bill Hubauer and Eric Gillette. No overarching concept this time — just everything and the kitchen sink, ranging from a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to brand-new half-hour epics. Available from Inside Out as 2CD, 2CD/DVD or 3 LPs/2 CDs

Trifecta, Fragments: what happens when Steven Wilson’s rhythm section turns his pre-show sound checks into “jazz club”? Short, sharp tracks that mix the undeniable chops and musicality of Adam Holzman on keys, Nick Beggs on Stick and Craig Blundell on drums with droll unpredictability and loopy titles like “Clean Up on Aisle Five” and “Pavlov’s Dog Killed Schrodinger’s Cat”. Available from Burning Shed as CD or LP (black or neon orange).

Upcoming releases after the jump!

Continue reading “The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2021!”

2021: My Favorite Albums, Six Months In

As life in these United States opens up, my life finally seems to be settling down — at least for the summer. Which means it’s time to make up for the backlog of excellent albums (new and old) that I’ve heard since January, but haven’t written about here! Links to listen (to complete albums or samples) are included whenever possible.

New Albums: The Art of Losing (The Anchoress’ rich meditation on endurance) and the multi-version adrenalin rush of Transatlantic’s The Absolute Universe notwithstanding, most of the new albums I’ve loved so far have migrated towards jazz and classical — frequently with pianists at their center. Vijay Iyer’s Uneasy, made with bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, is a state of the art piano trio effort; blues and abstraction suspended in perfect balance and caught in an intimate, tactile recording. Canadian Bach and Mozart specialist Angela Hewitt shows off her range with Love Songs, a gorgeous confection of orchestral and art song transcriptions assembled in lockdown and performed with undeniable panache. The same goes for Danny Driver’s phenomenal rendition of Gyorgy Ligeti’s hypermodern 18 Etudes — virtuoso pieces whose serene surfaces turn out to be rooted in super-knotty counterpoint and off-kilter rhythmic cells. My favorite new album of 2021 to date? Promises by electronica artist Floating Points, spiritual jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, and The London Symphony Orchestra, which manages to bring all of the above (well, except for the piano!) together in one glorious, 40-minute ambient epic.

Reissues: Big Big Train’s double-disc update of The Underfall Yard has definitely had its share of listening time, between Rob Aubrey’s rich remix/remaster and the welcome bonus disc (featuring fresh recordings of the title track and “Victorian Brickwork” by the full band and brass quintet). With My Bloody Valentine’s catalog back in print, their masterpiece Loveless sounds as incredible as ever; crushing distortion and lush romanticism collide to channel the sublime. And Pete Townshend has masterminded a comprehensive Super Deluxe edition of The Who Sell Out, the band’s pre-Tommy high point. But my favorite reissues thus far have been It Bites’ The Tall Ships (especially the title track — what a power ballad!) and Map of the Past (a favorite of mine since its original release). With the then-unknown John Mitchell taking over from Francis Dunnery, IB sailed into the 21st century with their 1980s pomp intact, killer hooks, head-spinning riffs and all.

Live Albums: Beyond the visceral thrills of Fanfare for the Uncommon Man: The Official Keith Emerson Tribute Concert, I’ve had a blast hearing krautrock legends Can conjure up spellbinding group improvisation on Live in Stuttgart 75, an initial dip into their voluminous concert archives. I’ve been giddy to hear Kansas, bolstered by keyboardist Tom Brislin, get their mojo working on Point of Know Return Live & Beyond. (They’ll be my first post-lockdown rock show next month.) And my journey back into soul music (see below) set me up nicely for the razor-sharp, precision funk of Tower of Power: 50 Years of Funk and Soul Live at the Fox Theater, a deliriously exciting reunion show recorded in 2018.

From the Catalog: All the good new stuff above aside, this is where some of my most fruitful listening has been happening this year — frequently inspired by other media. Watching the movie One Night in Miami led me back to Sam Cooke’s Portrait of a Legend: 1951-1964; the resulting dive into soul music ultimately brought me to Marvin Gaye’s classic concept album What’s Going On — 50 years old in 2021! Perusing various “best of 2020” lists turned me on to the avant-garde jazz of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusere’s on the tender spot of every calloused moment and Maria McKee’s art-pop song cycle La Vita Nuova (inspired by Dante, no less). Jazz/fusion legend Chick Corea’s death prompted a deep dive into his catalog; new favorites included Return to Forever’s Where Have I Known You Before and the fabulous Five Peace Band Live, Corea’s long-delayed collaboration with guitarist John McLaughlin. And after long years of the album doing nothing for me, Radiohead’s The Bends finally clicked when I read Steven Hyden’s fine band biography This Isn’t Happening. (Curt Bianchi’s wonderful new book, Elegant People: A History of the Band Weather Report, is prompting a similar deep dive into that quintessential jazz/rock band’s catalog; I highly recommend their cutting edge debut album from 1971 and their 1976 masterpiece of groove, Black Market.)

Coming Soon: In addition to Big Big Train’s Common Ground (take it from me, it’s a humdinger), I highly recommend MoonJune Records’ latest release, Indonesian fusion guitarist Dewa Budjana’s incandescent Naurora. I’m also eagerly anticipating new music from the Neal Morse Band (oops, NMB now), Steve Hackett and Isildur’s Bane & Peter Hammill; reissues of BeBop Deluxe’s Live in the Air Age and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass; and comprehensive box sets from The Beach Boys and Van Der Graaf Generator. Plus live shows from Kansas, Emmylou Harris and Los Lobos, King Crimson with The Zappa Band, and opening night of Genesis’ USA tour.

So, yeah, it’s taken a while — but at least from my point of view, 2021 has already been a solid year for music — and the prospects for it getting even better are looking up!

— Rick Krueger

Big Big Train’s David Longdon: The Progarchy Interview

2020 was going to be Big Big Train’s breakout year in North America. Building on ten years of increasing momentum, the road first paved on 2009’s The Underfall Yard (singer David Longdon’s debut with the band) had led to five more thrilling albums, brought to life in concert by a fearsomely talented septet (and the BBT Brass Ensemble). It was official — that spring, Big Big Train would tour the United States for the first time!

Then, as with so many other events, the coronavirus pandemic brought those big big plans to a screeching halt. Shows for 2020, then 2021 were inexorably cancelled; as the enforced period of inactivity lengthened, guitarist Dave Gregory, violinist Rachel Hall and keyboardist Danny Manners left the band. While the double album career survey Summer’s Lease and the live Empire served as worthy capstones to their era, BBT’s faithful Passengers couldn’t help but wonder: what was next for founder Greg Spawton, Longdon (both pictured above) and remaining compatriots Nick D’Virgilio and Rikard Sjöblom? Had the Train reached its final destination?

Fortunately, the answer was a resounding “Nope!” With Big Big Train’s brand new release Common Ground set for release at the end of July, followed by North American and UK tours in 2022, David Longdon was kind enough to join me for a Zoom chat last week. Obviously excited by both the new album and the prospect of returning to the stage, Longdon was generous with his time and his answers, open about the toll the pandemic took on him and his beloved country, and willing to “thrash through” the intricate lyrical and musical ideas on the record. A delightful mix of familiar and innovative elements, Common Ground is yet another BBT album of exceptional artistic ambition, power, beauty and grace, and David Longdon couldn’t be happier about it! A transcript of our conversation follows the video. Enjoy!!

So I wanted to start back last year, because the pandemic threw all of us into uncharted territory.  One of the first impacts from our end, as a music fan, was that you cancelled your North American tour, Big Big Train’s first American tour.  We had tickets for the Fort Wayne show, and we were disappointed, but we certainly understood. 

But obviously, that enforced pause in playing live went on a lot longer.  How did that feed into making your new album, Common Ground?

Well, everything ground to a halt, didn’t it?   The world as we knew it just ground to a halt; the unthinkable happened!  It’s such an extraordinary time.  And it was very much like – I said so at the time — like living in like a Ray Bradbury book, or something like that. Or certainly a J.G. Ballard book, this apocalyptic times kind of thing.  “It’s awful!  Were we gonna make it through?  Is this gonna be our equivalent of whatever saw off the dinosaurs?”  That kind of stuff.

The news bulletins were horrendous.  The death rates were going up, the R-rates in the UK, they’re looking at that.  Each day the wave of fresh cases, and more worryingly, the rising death toll.  It was going up and up and up and up.  And of course, in the UK, we’d seen it coming over from Europe in the months leading to up to our first lockdown.  And we knew what was coming, because we’d had correspondences from our European friends.  Yeah, it’s the stuff of nightmares!  Very uncertain times.

One of the things that I found as a comfort would be walking in nature, being in the natural world; I always take great comfort from that.  I’d rather be outside than inside, particularly when things were starting to get a bit hairy, back in March last year for us.  Yeah, it was horrendous!

So music, writing music and going for walks in nature were the thing that kind of kept me on the straight and narrow, really.  It kept me sane.  So that’s how I dealt with it.  And through the first lockdown I was finishing off the record that I made with Judy Dyble [Between a Breath and a Breath]

I don’t see how what happened to the world in that time could have not had an impact on the record, really.  And with losing three members of a long-standing lineup: again, some of that quite possibly came to a head as a result of being a real crossroads for the band and for the world at that time.

So yeah, the pandemic was a huge impact on the album. And the band.  And the world.  And everything!

OK.  So you mentioned there were some changes thrust on you by circumstance – the band members leaving, for example.  As you and Greg and the others started writing and recording. what changes were intentional choices?

OK.  Well as I said to you, personally, from my writing point of view, rather than writing songs where in the past, something like “Ariel” I’d be researching The Tempest, I’d be researching the life of William Shakespeare.  I’d be researching the life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and collating lots of information to make the story and make it scan as a piece of music, I just felt like I needed to write in the real world, in the now of that time, if that makes sense.

I know that, inevitably songs like “The Strangest Times,” which is very directly about the pandemic, I know that will eventually be a time capsule of that period.  But I can’t wait when it is!  I’m looking forward to that being the case!  I would say that in particular.

Continue reading “Big Big Train’s David Longdon: The Progarchy Interview”

King Crimson’s Music Is Our Friend USA Tour

It’s been a long, long, loooong wait for King Crimson to reschedule their pandemic-postponed tour, originally planned for last summer. But as of today, there’s rejoicing in the air at Discipline Global Mobile:

We are pleased to announce the dates for the re-scheduled 2021 King Crimson tour of the USA. This is also a good moment to publicly thank all those who have worked so hard to make this tour possible. The dates have changed on an almost daily basis over the last six months as rules and restrictions have changed.

The California Guitar Trio will be appearing as a special guest for the first leg of the tour. King Crimson will be accompanied by the Zappa Band for the whole of the second leg of the tour from 22nd August – 11th September, and also for the concerts in Concord and Los Angeles on 5th and 6th August.

There are currently Royal Package places available at all these concerts. The Royal Package gives priority seating at the front of the venue, early access, special merchandise, and personal insights and answers from David Singleton and one of the band members. Anyone with an existing place reserved last year, who now needs to move to a different venue or apply for a refund, should contact iona@dgmhq.com.

Crimson manager David Singleton has much, much more on the headaches involved at his DGM diary. And Crimson founder/mainman/guitarist Robert Fripp has also reacted in characteristic fashion:

The Crimson Beast Of Terror has woken from its enforced slumbering and is venturing out to stomp flat the psyches of innocents not yet experienced in the hammering onslaught of King Crimson’s uncompromising pounding – bish! bish! bish! – before turning on a beat to jellify hearts with gut-wrenching passion and soul-squeezing epic unfoldings to remind us that we are all mere subjects in the unfolding drama of the universe’s unfathomable mysteries while simultaneously rocking out and having a great time bopping about with Tony and Bobby and Gavin and Jakko and Mel and Pat and Jezza too.

Tour dates are listed below; Royal Packages are available by clicking the appropriate link, and regular seats will go on sale soon. I look forward to entering the Court of the Crimson King for the 10th time on August 18 at Meadow Brook Amphitheater!

July 22, 2021 – Clearwater, FL – Ruth Eckerd Hall

July 23, 2021 – Delray Beach, FL – Old School Square

July 24, 2021 – St. Augustine, FL – St Augustine Ampitheater

July 26, 2021 – Orlando, FL – Dr. Phillips Walt Disney Theater

July 27, 2021 – Atlanta, GA – The Fox

July 28, 2021 – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium

July 30, 2021 – Fort Worth, TX – Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium

July 31, 2021 – Cedar Park, TX – H-E-B Center

August 2, 2021 – Greenwood Village, CO – Fiddlers Green Amiptheater

August 3, 2021 – Sandy, UT – Sandy Ampitheater

August 5, 2021- Concord, CA – Concord Pavilion

August 6, 2021 – Los Angeles – The Greek

August 7, 2021 – Scottsdale, AZ – Talking Stick Ballroom

August 23, 2021 – Saratoga Springs, NY – SPAC

August 24, 2021 – Northampton, MA – The Pines Theater

August 26, 2021 – Canandaigua, NY – CMAC

August 27, 2021 – Lewiston, NY – Artpark Ampitheater

August 28, 2021 – Rochester Hills, MI – Meadow Brook Ampitheater

August 29, 2021 – Highland Park, IL – Ravinia

August 31, 2021 – Milwaukee, WI – Miller High Life Theatre

September 1, 2021 – Cleveland, OH – Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica

September 2, 2021 – Huber Heights, OH – Rose Music Center @ The Heights

September 4, 2021 – Holmdel, NJ – PNC Bank Arts Center

September 5, 2021 – New Haven, CT – Westville Music Bowl

September 7, 2021 – Philadelphia, PA – The Mann Center

September 9, 2021 – Forest Hills, NYC – Forest Hills Stadium

September 10, 2021 – Boston, MA – Leader Bank Pavilion

September 11, 2021 – Washington, DC – The Anthem

— Rick Krueger

Big Big Train, Common Ground

Well, this is a pleasant surprise:

30th July 2021 sees the release of Common Ground, the self-produced new album from Big Big Train released on CD via their own label, English Electric Recordings, and on double LP in a gatefold sleeve via Plane Groovy. The album will also be available as a Bandcamp download and on all major streaming platforms.

Recorded during the worldwide pandemic in 2020, Common Ground sees the band continue their tradition of dramatic narratives but also tackles issues much closer to home, such as the Covid lockdowns, the separation of loved ones, the passage of time, deaths of people close to the band and the hope that springs from a new love.

Common Ground finds the band taking in wider musical and lyrical inspiration from artists such as Elbow, Pete Townshend, Tears For Fears, Elton John and XTC, as well as acknowledging their more progressive roots. As ever, Big Big Train will take listeners on a journey, be it waiting for the 5pm pandemic UK press conferences (The Strangest Times) to the library of Alexandria (Black With Ink) to the bottom of the ocean (Atlantic Cable).

Big Big Train has taken lyrical and musical inspiration from periods of history that are recognised as great leaps forward. Now with Common Ground, they are making such a surge themselves.

The title track is now available to stream at Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube:

Preorders for the Common Ground album and related swag are now available at:

And still there’ll be more in 2022:

The Common Ground tour will be Big Big Train’s most comprehensive set of shows to date and will conclude in the UK at the prestigious London Palladium.

For the UK tour Greg Spawton (bass, bass pedals), David Longdon (lead vocals, flute), Nick D’Virgilio (drums, vocals) and Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, vocals) will be joined by Carly Bryant (keyboards, guitars, vocals), who contributes vocals to Common Ground, Dave Foster (guitars), who plays on two tracks on the new album, Clare Lindley (violin, vocals) and by a five piece brass ensemble led by Dave Desmond (trombone).

The band expects to announce North American tour dates shortly.

With all this in store after BBT was forced to cancel their 2020-21 touring, I could only think of the words of noted music critic, theologian and hobbit Sam Gamgee:

“Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”. . . “O great glory and splendor! And all my wishes have come true!”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

— Rick Krueger

Proggily Down the Stream . . .

A sign of Spring’s awakening? Two rather special sounding streamed concerts are coming our way:

The Pineapple Thief have decamped to a top sound stage studio and recorded, in drummer Gavin Harrison’s words, “the show that we were meant to do in Covid times (but had to cancel).” Nothing But The Truth will be available on demand from 6 pm this Thursday, April 22 to 6 pm on Monday, April 26. Since I was boneheaded enough to miss the Thief’s late 2019 tour of the States, I’m eagerly anticipating this one! Tickets are dirt cheap (under $25 US), with a variety of merch (including crew support t-shirts) also available. Details and ordering at TPT’s website.

Next month, Nick D’Virgilio mounts a livestream performance of his solo album Invisible (one of my faves of 2020) from his homebase of Fort Wayne’s Sweetwater Studios on Friday, May 14 at 4 pm. Virtual packages with prices ranging from $15 to $65 are available at Mandolin.

And looking ahead to the fall, Neal Morse’s annual Morsefest has already sold out its limited live seats — but virtual options for the two night festival on Friday-Saturday, October 8-9 (featuring the upcoming fourth album from the Neal Morse Band) are still available at Radiant Records.

— Rick Krueger

Got Live If you Want It!

As the demigods of the US postal service would have it (and OK, ordering from Amazon, Burning Shed and others had something to do with it), a lot of the CDs that have landed in my mailbox lately are live albums (or have a live element). “So whadid ya get?” Glad you asked . . .

District 97, Screenplay: the first live effort from the grassroots Chicago group intended for mainstream distribution, this double disc set is a comprehensive showcase for their gutsy blend of prog, metal and fusion. Disc 1 is a headlong romp through their fine album Screens, recorded onstage in the Netherlands; along with a new track, disc 2 serves up delectable live takes on their back catalog plus covers ranging from John Lennon (a snippet of “Jealous Guy”) through Bill Bruford (two tracks performed in my vicinity at Progtoberfest 2018) to King Crimson (with the late John Wetton on vocals). A perfect introduction for D97 newcomers, and a delightful celebration for fans already in the know. Available direct from the band.

The Keith Emerson Tribute Concert – Fanfare for the Uncommon Man: Five years in the making, this 2 DVD/2 CD combo pack, recorded at Los Angeles’ El Rey Theater two months after Emerson’s devastating suicide, is the best tribute to him I could imagine. Post-ELP collaborator Marc Bonilla wrangles a impressive rotating cast of star players through a setlist that captures both Emo’s audacious, aggressive swagger and his sophisticated, heart-wrenching lyricism. Toto’s Steve Porcaro (organ on “The Barbarian”), Emerson protege Rachel Flowers (piano on a complete instrumental version of “The Endless Enigma”), CJ Vanston (piano on “Take A Pebble”) and Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess (multi-keys on a complete “Tarkus”) all shine in the keyboard chair; guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter turns Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” into a chicken-pickin’ delight. And when Eddie Jobson takes over Emerson’s iconic modular Moog synthesizer to play that solo on “Lucky Man,” the chills down my spine are unstoppable. Available direct from Cherry Red Records.

Peter Gabriel Plays Live: PG’s initial live album, restored to its original length and running order after far too many years in an edited version. Touring colleges and universities in the American Midwest to support the Security album, Gabriel and his backing players wove together high-contrast monochrome textures, brutally stark rhythms and chantlike volleys of vocals to conjure up an intense, ritualistic experience. Having seen this tour in the flesh, I can attest the album does a great job capturing the tour’s immersive, primitivistic grandeur — as well as including jauntier highlights from earlier albums and the goofy, otherwise unreleased “I Go Swimming.” Available direct from the artist or via Burning Shed.

Liquid Tension Experiment 3: Yeah, this one’s a stretch . . . but hey, the bonus disc of improvisations was recorded live in the studio! Initial opinion among fellow fans seems divided on the uncanny ability of John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, Tony Levin and Mike Portnoy to pick up almost exactly where they left off 22 years ago. Do you prefer your progressive music to explore farther-out frontiers each time, or to dig deeper in a previously fruitful vein? Me, I get into both approaches — and while LTE certainly plows similar instrumental prog-metal furrows as on their first two albums, there’s plenty of jaw-dropping, face-melting, heart-wrenching, smile-inducing gold in them there grooves! Available from Inside Out and Burning Shed. Oh, and I’m confident you’ve never heard a version of “Rhapsody in Blue” quite like this:

— Rick Krueger