Kruekutt’s 2022 Favorites

A few notes before I dive in: items I’ve reviewed here are linked to the relevant Progarchy article via the artist/album title; If I didn’t review an item here or elsewhere, it’s marked with an asterisk (*) — but I hope the capsule description and listening/order links will encourage you to check it out!

My favorite new music of 2022:

  • Dave Bainbridge, To The Far Away: A thrilling, ravishingly beautiful album about love, longing, hope and a future. Lyrics of rich simplicity cradled in a lush orchestral blend of rock, prog and Celtic folk. My interview with Bainbridge is here.
  • Big Big Train, Welcome to the Planet: what turned out to be BBT’s final effort with the late David Longdon consolidates the widened horizons of Grand Tour and the intimate subjects of Common Ground, casting an epic light on the everyday glory of family, community, joy and loss.
  • Cosmograf, Heroic Materials: Elegiac in its evocation of past achievements, urgent in its contemporary call to action, breathtaking in its poised blend of fragility and strength, Robin Armstrong’s latest is a riveting listen.
  • The Flower Kings, By Royal Decree: TFK’s third double album in a row, this is the sound of Roine Stolt and company refreshed and revisiting their optimistic roots, soaring on the wings of one marvelous melody after another. As much a joy to hear as it must have been to create.
  • Mary Halvorson, Amaryllis & Belladonna: free jazz guitarist Halvorson hits a major label with two albums — teaming with a boisterously simpatico sextet on Amaryllis, then dancing atop and around modern classical textures from the Mivos Quartet on Belladonna. Audacious and engrossing, this music will open your ears real good!
  • Dave Kerzner, The Traveller: confident, appealing songwriting with hooky yet sophisticated melodies and structures, Kerzner’s best, widest ranging vocals to date and perfectly judged contributions from a stellar guest list. Letting his new songs sell themselves and keeping proceedings to the point, he both satisfies us and leaves us wanting more. 
  • The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, Cold As Weiss: An immediately accessible reboot of a classic jazz trio format. Organist Lamarr, guitarist Jimmy James and drummer Daniel Weiss are thrilling players who never fail to make their instruments sing. Funky, catchy bite-size tracks with great individual playing and razor sharp ensemble. 
  • Marillion, An Hour Before It’s Dark: The front half of Los Marillos’ latest has more swagger than they’ve mustered in a while; the back half’s meditative downshift climaxes with the sweeping smashcut finale “Care,” as power chords and massed choirs climb heavenward. Unique as anything in their catalog, and another thoroughbred winner.
  • Pure Reason Revolution, Above Cirrus: this fifth album reveals PRR at their best, consistently upping their game to the next level. For every moment of blissful harmonies and glidepath atmospherics, there’s an equal and opposite moment of feral guitar/drum slammin’ — and when they layer the two together, look out! Well worth buckling up for the ride.
  • The Smile, A Light For Attracting Attention: A Radiohead side project worth your while. Thom Yorke overflows with apocalyptic dread; Jonny Greenwood’s off-kilter instrumental instincts are keener than ever; Tom Skinner’s skittering beats relentlessly drive the grim, lush soundscapes forward. Music for our contemporary dystopia, irresistibly sucking you in.
  • Tears For Fears, The Tipping Point: Roland Orzbaal & Curtis Smith’s catchy-as-always comeback goes for catharsis via unstoppable rhythms, unforgettable choruses and naked vulnerability on every single track, Devastatingly gorgeous, uncompromising art-pop that will haunt you long after every listen.
  • And my Top Favorite of the year — Wilco, Cruel Country. A double set that detours from Jeff Tweedy’s thoughtful dad-rock toward Nashville and Bakersfield, the tactile interplay of the band and Tweedy’s quizzical, empathetic probes of societal alienation elevate this to an album of genuine tenderness and subtlety, gathering strength and heart as it unrolls. After a digital-only release this year, it’s finally coming out on LP and CD January 20!

My favorite reissues of 2022:

  • The Beatles, Revolver Special Edition*: No Revolver, no Sergeant Pepper — no prog? Regardless of what ifs, the Fabs’ great leap forward of 1966 was brilliant in its own right, dragging pop headlong toward the avant-garde. Here it gets a subtle yet effective remix, with fascinating studio outtakes framing the cutting-edge results.
  • Tim Bowness & Giancarlo Erra, Memories of Machines: an irresistible mix of unflinchingly intimate art-rock and lowering ambient backdrops. Ten years on, original arrangements and track lengths are restored, Erra’s textural work is inched forward — and as always, Bowness breaks your heart with his ringing couplets and his stoic voice.
  • My Top Favorite Reissue of the year: Robert Fripp, Exposure/Exposures. The guitarist’s 1979 return to active duty after a post-King Crimson sabbatical, binding together a disparate set of songs and guest artists with his innovative ambient Frippertronics. Whether by itself or as part of a gargantuan box set that chronicles Fripp’s entire “Drive to 1981,” it’s a wild, worthwhile listen in and of itself, while providing distinctive previews of coming attractions.
  • Marillion, Holidays in Eden Deluxe Edition*: my introduction to the band (I first saw them live on the US tour promoting the album), Holidays was partially a product of record company pressure for hit singles, but it also has plenty of Marillion’s trademark ambition, power and lyricism. A fresh remix complemented by exciting live shows on both audio and video.
  • Soft Machine, Bundles*: Add blazing young guitarist Allan Holdsworth to one of the pioneering British jazz-rock bands, stir in quirky compositions by keyboardists Karl Jenkins and Mike Ratledge, and stand by for fireworks! This fresh reissue also includes a hot live set featuring Holdsworth’s successor John Ethridge (still active with the Softs today).
  • Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Super Deluxe Edition*: The album that put Wilco on the map (after they were dropped by their label), YHF mutated from Americana through dream-pop to electronica-tinged folk-rock as band members and producers came and went. Eight discs that copiously chronicle the recording process, plus blistering two live sets.

My favorite (re)discoveries of 2022:

My favorite live album of 2022: Big Big Train, Summer Shall Not Fade*. Equal parts power and grace, BBT’s 2018 headlining gig at Germany’s Night of the Prog may be their best live release yet. Playing to their largest crowd ever, David Longdon commands the stage; Greg Spawton and Nick D’Virgilio provide a muscular foundation; Dave Gregory, Rikard Sjobom, Danny Manners and Rachel Hall serve up one delightful moment after another. Bryan Morey’s review nails it; this is indispensable.

My favorite rock documentary of 2022: In The Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50*. The most unconventional band of the last five decades gets the most unconventional documentary possible. Crims past and present weigh in on “living, dying, laughing, playing and rocking out”, with Robert Fripp providing the ever-present focal point in a particularly puckish fashion. There’s also a deluxe edition with live Crimson video (both in the studio and at 2019’s Rock in Rio festival) and four bonus CDs of soundtrack cuts, rarities, etc.

My favorite books about music of 2022:

  • Vashti Bunyan, Wayward: Just Another Life to Live. Singer-songwriter Bunyan’s unlikely late-60s odyssey from Swinging London to the Hebrides forms the heart of this evocative narrative. Laboriously traversing the heart of England, she gains understanding of the natural world, of human kindness and cruelty — and of her own sturdy inner core.
  • Dan Charnas (with musical analysis by Jeff Peretz), Dilla Time: The Life And Afterlife Of J Dilla, The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm*. In Charnas’ telling, Dilla emerges as an innovator who laid down new paths for neo-soul and conceptual hip-hop, via his subtle yet unsettling variations on previously straight-up rhythms. Peretz’s equally innovative graphic depictions of rhythmic innovations across the decades buttress the page-turning narrative.
  • Robert Fripp, The Guitar Circle*. More a philosophical tome than a how-to book, though still remarkably practical, Fripp’s highly conceptual explanation of his process (as unfolded in Guitar Craft courses and Guitar Circles) won’t be for everyone. But those who dig in will grasp where this eternally questing musician is coming from better than ever before.
  • David Leaf, God Only Knows: The Story of Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys And The California Myth*. The third edition of Leaf’s lifework chronicles The Beach Boys’ journey from surf-rock through eccentric art-pop to the dead end of nostalgia, then sidesteps to Wilson’s solo comeback, culminating in the completion of his masterwork Smile. Not in the least objective, but comprehensive, even-handed toward the rest of The Beach Boys, and heartfelt.
  • Grant Moon, Big Big Train – Between The Lines: The Story Of A Rock Band. How BBT became a prog powerhouse — through sheer bloody-mindedness, growth in craft and a keen ear for musical contributors — is the tale told in this richly detailed bio/coffee table tome. Both a celebration of the music made and an unflinching look at the price paid for a dream.

And in closing . . .

If you’re interested, check out these recordings I played or sang on that were released in 2022:

— Rick Krueger

The Big Big Book Review: “Big Big Train – Between The Lines: The Story Of A Rock Band”

grant-moon_big-big-train–between-the-lines_bookGrant Moon, Big Big Train – Between The Lines: The Story Of A Rock Band, Great Britain: Kingmaker Publishing, 2022, 271 Pages. 

It seems fitting that a band that has taken such an unusual path to success as Big Big Train should have a book detailing the route they took. Few other artists in progressive rock, apart from perhaps Kate Bush, have reached the successes Big Big Train have accomplished without a heavy grind of international touring.

Grant Moon’s Between The Lines: The Story Of A Rock Band tells in detail how their story unfolded, but it is clear this story is not a roadmap for other bands to follow in their steps. Rather Big Big Train has been a labor of love from the outset, and if it weren’t for the longtime commitment of founders Greg Spawton and Andy Poole, the band never would have arrived where they are now. With that said, to reach beyond the obscure world Big Big Train inhabited pre-2009, a little (or a lot) of luck had to roll their way. David Longdon joining the band for The Underfall Yard, along with Nick D’Virgilio joining as a permanent member after playing on the previous record and Dave Gregory guesting on TUY, poured the requisite coal into the firebox. Members have come and gone throughout the band’s long history, as Moon covers in intense detail, but these three helped provide the signature sound that helped break Greg Spawton’s musical and lyrical ideas to wider audiences.

Since the purpose of the book is to provide you with the juicy details, I’ll spare you any further plot summary and rather speak to the qualities of the book itself. For starters, it’s a beautiful product. Rather than being a simple paperback or even traditional hardback book with maybe an insert of color or black and white photos somewhere in the center, Between The Lines is a large coffee-table style hardcover book. The cover features a lovely dusk photograph of the band playing at Night of the Prog in Loreley, Germany, in 2018. Each page is printed in two columns, and the book is filled with both color and black and white photos from the band’s history and digging even deeper into certain member’s pasts. There are also some great photos of Sarah Ewing’s album artwork in process. Put simply, the book makes an attractive addition to a progressive music fan’s collection. Certainly any diehard Big Big Train fan will have already purchased it.

As a relatively longtime fan of the band (since 2013), I have followed Big Big Train very closely for close to a decade. I’m not on Facebook, so I’m not a part of the band’s public facebook group, although I’ve perused it before. I’ve also never attended any of their live concerts, but with the exception of Bard and the band’s first two demo CDs, I have all of the band’s albums on CD, including the rare English Electric: Full Power, my first Big Big Train purchase. I also have all of their Blu Rays and even the digital video download of the Kings Place shows. I have all of the band’s recordings (including Bard and the early demos) in my iTunes, and I’m a proud charter member of the Passengers Club. I signed up as soon as it was announced. All of that to say, even though I’ve followed the band more closely than any other band of which I am a fan, there was a lot for me to learn within the pages of Moon’s book. For instance, the band experienced growing tensions both internally and externally during their intense period of growth. While seemingly at the top of the world, Longdon underwent a difficult collapse of his marriage as the band continued to expand. As the group sought to push into live performances, tension mounted between founders Spawton and Poole, which eventually ended in the latter being pushed out of the band. The band kept many of these tensions away from the public eye, yet they still managed to create some of the finest music the genre has ever known. Moon shines a light on both aspects of the band’s career.

Moon seemingly hides nothing in this book, which is comprised heavily of edited interviews with the band’s members, both past and present. The nice thing about that is we get both sides of the stories, with Moon doing his best to present the truth somewhere in the middle. Additionally we get detailed explanations about how each member came to board the Train, and we even get a look at David Longdon and Nick D’Virgilio’s involvement with Genesis during the Calling All Stations sessions, including input from Tony Banks himself. The book also gives hints at some of the band’s future plans, even teasing a reissue of Bard. Between The Lines ends on the sad note of Longdon’s passing and Sarah Ewing encouraging the band to keep going.

Since Moon is a journalist, the book, his first, is written in a very journalistic style. The prose is often very informal and sometimes grammatically incorrect, which is common in journalistic writing. It is also very British, which is to be expected. Some of it can be a bit jarring. It’s one thing to repeat expletives or phrases like “cock-up” in a quotation, but it’s another thing to use them in narrative prose. Even if that is more common in UK English, to my American eyes I found it unnecessary. Such language works fine in a quotation – I always keep it in place when I transcribe my own interviews with artists. For a book, especially one covering such serious and top tier music, it would have been better to have more formality in the non-quotation parts.

With that said, I found the book to be a very enjoyable read. I read most of it this weekend on the couch as I’ve been sick with a cold. The narrative drew me onwards as it filled in the gaps in my already pretty expansive knowledge of Big Big Train’s history. I particularly enjoyed reliving the energy of band’s triumphant rise following English Electric. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed. I remember so many of the events as they happened, even if I experienced them from afar. I remember closely following social media the weekend of the King’s Place shows in 2015, and it was exciting to read a well-crafted narrative of the preparation for and execution of those shows, as well as the other live shows the band have performed since.

The insights the band members, past and present, give to their roles in the band is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book. Big Big Train’s music is densely layered, and it is all too easy to get lost in the complexity and appreciate the sound as a whole. Having the members explain how and what they contributed helps break things down, giving us fans a peak into the band’s writing process. The book also gives loud voices to members of the band who may have been quieter around the press, particularly Andy Poole, Rachel Hall, Dave Gregory, and Danny Manners. I found the well-rounded approach Moon took in representing the members to be very refreshing.

Between The Lines proved to be an enjoyable and engaging read about one of my favorite bands. It is clearly oriented towards the already-engaged fanbase, but anyone with a strong interest in the current wave of progressive music will find this book an interesting read. Beyond that, the book tells the story of a band’s non-traditional rise to success quite separate from the record label establishment. As such anyone interested in that aspect of the music industry should certainly give the book a read. There’s more than one way to set a course for the stars.

Bryan Morey

Purchase the book here: https://burningshed.com/store/bigbigtrain/grant-moon_big-big-train–between-the-lines_book

Biography of Big Big Train To Be Released June 16

Some great news from Big Big Train today about an upcoming biography of the band by Grant Moon. More from the band:

Kingmaker Publishing is delighted to announce the publication of the biography of Big Big Train. Written by music journalist Grant Moon, Big Big Train – Between The Lines: The Story Of A Rock Bandwill be published on 16th June 2022.

Big Big Train – Between The Lines documents the entire career of Big Big Train to date. From the band’s humble beginnings in Bournemouth on the UK’s south coast and its slow progress through the 1990s, Classic Rock and Prog magazine writer Grant Moon then covers Big Big Train’s endurance through the 2000s before charting the arrival into the band of drummer Nick D’Virgilio in 2007 and their breakthrough with 2009 album The Underfall Yard, their first with vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist David Longdon.

The book goes on to explore the band’s steady rise to greater commercial and critical success during the 2010s, including their return to live performance in 2015 and triumphant headline show at the Night Of The Prog festival at Loreley, Germany in July 2018.

Big Big Train – Between The Lines concludes by bringing the band’s story fully up to date, detailing last year’s Common Ground and this year’s Welcome To The Planet albums and how the band have persisted despite numerous challenges including the turmoil of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The book was written primarily in 2020 and 2021 and completed early in 2022 to take account of David Longdon’s tragic death in November last year. Moon interviewed over 30 musicians and other individuals connected with Big Big Train and their story. These included Tony Banks of Genesis, who provides significant insight into David Longdon’s audition to replace Phil Collins in Genesis.

Big Big Train – Between The Lines will be published as a ca. 270-page, coffee table-style hardback book, with over 180 photographs and illustrations documenting the band’s career and the early lives of band members, many of which have never been previously published.

The book is available for pre-order now from Burning Shed via https://burningshed.com/store/kingmaker. All pre-orders will be signed and individually numbered by Big Big Train founder Gregory Spawton and author Grant Moon.

Thank you for your support

Carly, Clare, Dave, Gregory, Nick and Rikard

Big Big Train

Neil Peart: Cultural Repercussions Now Available

As any Neil Peart fan well knows, the great man just celebrated his 63rd birthday and his sequel to his co-authored novel, CLOCKWORK LIVES, comes out tomorrow. We all eagerly await with intense and immense anticipation this new work by Peart and Hugo-nominated science-fiction author, Kevin J. Anderson.

Out September 15, 2015.
Out September 15, 2015.

I must also proudly note that my intellectual biography of the world’s greatest drummer comes out tomorrow as well. NEIL PEART: CULTURAL (RE)PERCUSSIONS (WordFire Press). It will be available in paperback ($14.99) and ebook ($5.99) but is now available for pre-order.

http://www.amazon.com/Neil-Peart-Repercussions-depth-professional/dp/1614753547/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1442243061&sr=8-1

I have to thank a lot of folks for their encouragement with this book project, and I hope I give everyone due credit in the book. When I read the works of Steve Horwitz and Rob Freedman, I just knew that I had to write a book on Peart. I’ve loved Neil Peart’s words and musicianship since first encountering MOVING PICTURES in March 1981. I was in seventh grade, and I’ve never been the same. To me, Peart fits in the same category as J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula LeGuin, Ray Bradbury, and Milton Friedman as influences on my young life. As Peart has grown, so have I. And, so, I presume have most of us.

This book also turns out to be my fifth published biography. The other biographies, however, have been almost completely academic. When I first started to write this book, I’d wanted to write an autobiography with the emphasis on how Peart shaped my own life and thoughts on a variety of things. Even during the first draft, I started deviating from this plan. By the final product, I’d left in only a few personal experiences. There are two reasons for this.

First, almost everyone who reads the book wants to know about Peart, not me. Second, some of the experiences are still too painful to make public fully. I can only state that Peart’s art and example has meant as much to me and my life as any figure outside of my family.

In the book, I focus on Peart as a man of letters, one of our greatest in the English language. I was pretty thrilled when PROG’s Johnny Sharp wrote:

But author Bradley Birzer does go a little over the top in his gushing praise of his subject. When an intro mentions Peart in the same sentence as Socrates and Cicero. . .

He’s completely correct, of course. But, you should’ve seen earlier drafts! Ha. Anyway, if you like what we do at progarchy, you’ll like the bio.

Actually, I was just thrilled that my favorite magazine reviewed my book! Even if Sharp had hated it, I’d still be pretty honored that Jerry Ewing and Grant Moon took it seriously enough to review. Still, I’m so glad Sharp actually enjoyed it!

Here’s hoping you will as well!