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(54:57, ‘BBT’ & MALS Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Hope This Finds You 3:12 2. Perfect Cosmic Storm 14:40 3. Breathing Space 1:47 4. Pick Up If You’re There 13:39 5. From the Wide Open Sea 1:20 6. Saltwater Falling on Even Ground 12:38 7. Summer’s Lease 7:34 LINEUP: Gregory Spawton – guitars; keyboards; vocals Andy Poole – basses Steve Hughes – drums Sean Filkins – lead & backing vocals With: Becca King – viola Tony Wright (IQ) – saxophone &: Pete Trewavas (Marillion) – bass Dave Meros (Spock’s Beard) – guitars Nick D’Virgilio (Spock’s Beard) – drums
Prolusion. Since its appearance on the progressive rock map in the early ‘90s, the English band BIG-BIG TRAIN (BBT hereinafter) stably produces one studio album in three years – on average. Following “Gathering Speed” (2004), “Bard” (2002), “English Boy Wonders” (1997) and “Goodbye to the Edge of Steam” (1994), “The Difference Machine” was originally issued in the fall of 2007 by the group itself, but already in a few months the CD received its official, worldwide-release, status via the Russian MALS label.
Analysis. Made up of three instrumentals and four tracks with vocals, this recording bears quite a striking similarity to its predecessor, displaying a lot of familiar musical landscapes, with many particularly in the songs (which cover seven eights of its length). As before, Yes occupies most of the band’s field of influences, so to speak; lead vocalist Sean Filkins, with ‘his’ characteristic, kind of esoteric, delivery, sounds traditionally like a devoted Jon Anderson adherent; his joint in-a-three-harmony singing with Gregory Spawton still reminds me heavily of what is overall the same story also. Besides the said inhabitants of the progressive rock gods’ pantheon, only Genesis comes to mind, and only occasionally – when the Mellotron takes the spotlight or when Gregory sings alone, which happens infrequently in both cases. Many of the arrangements on the first two epic-length tracks, Perfect Cosmic Storm and Pick Up If You’re There (especially those within their vocal sections), are strongly reminiscent of Yes’s early ‘70s classic sympho-prog creations, although – save for Andy Poole’s, whose bass lines are often not unlike Chris Squire’s in delivery – all the players’ individual voices, meaning if taken separately, seem to be original, Gregory’s guitar, organ and piano leads and Steve Hughes’ drumming in particular. However, a few of the instrumental interludes on each find BBT offering something very different, original and new (at least within their work), namely movements with either Tony Wright’s saxophone or Becca King’s viola at their fore, which lean towards Jazz-Fusion and light chamber music, respectively. Unexpectedly, the other two semi-epic compositions, Saltwater Falling on Even Ground and Summer’s Lease, turn out to be much less dynamic than their brothers in length, both being dominated by slow-paced, unhurriedly evolving arrangements, and while the first of these can at least be squeezed :-) into the art-rock idiom owing to the band’s occasional attempts to approach the complexity of classic Yes with an accessible flair, the other is atmospheric, texturally transparent, throughout. Nevertheless, the signs of the band’s new strategy are evident on these also, especially on the closing track, which involves both Tony and Becca, and so sounds weightier than a conventional Yes-inspired ballad. Of the three instrumentals, Hope This Finds You, Breathing Space and From the Wide Open Sea, the disc opener begins and develops as a refined interplay between piano, violin and saxophone, but its last third only consists of slowly droning keyboards and sort of semi-frozen guitar solos, which in turn is what both the other cuts are generally about.
Conclusion. It was wise of BBT to invite the two acoustic players to contribute to this album, as they noticeably diversify the (otherwise pretty traditional) sonic palette here. One may think it’s indeed due exclusively to those musicians’ participation in the recording that it has a distinct sense of originality in places, but none of them are credited as songwriters, from which it logically follows that the innovation is the band’s doing. In any event, it’s obvious that BBT still continues to progress and that, despite often sounding like an elaborate parody of Yes, “The Difference Machine” is their best effort to date. Taking into consideration the general state of the progressive rock genre nowadays, it should be safe to cite one proverb as the curtain falls: Better a small fish than an empty dish.
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