Big Big Train -
The Second Brightest Star

(CD 2017, 70:23, English Electric ERCD0020)

The tracks:
  1- The Second Brightest Star(7:17)
  2- Haymaking(3:23)
  3- Skylon(6:44)
  4- London Stone(2:01)
  5- The Passing Widow(5:33)
  6- The Leaden Stour(7:19)
  7- Terra Australis Incognita(4:16)
  8- Brooklands Sequence(17:33)
         - On The Racing Line
         - Brooklands
  9- London Plane Sequence(13:14)
         - Turner On The Thames
         - London Plane
10- The Gentlemen's Reprise(3:03)

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On the day of the Summer Solstice a message appeared on my tablet announcing a new Big Big Train album to be released two days later. What kind of joke and tomfoolery is this I asked myself but on further inspection and a visit to the Big Big Train Facebook group it became apparent that all was in order and the band were indeed releasing another album hot on the heels of the fabulous ( and probably album of the year ) Grimspound (2017, see review).

It turns out to be a companion album to Folklore (2016, see review) and Grimspound. There are tracks here that we have heard before and there is music that we have heard in different forms. But there are also new songs as well. The first three tracks are new. The Second Brightest Star is piano led as are most of the new songs here. Dave Gregory provides a great guitar sound towards the end. A simple song made special by David Longdons voice and a fabulous tune. Haymaking is an instrumental featuring Rachel Hall on violin and is her first but not last venture in songwriting. Skylon is a song that has had more excuses as to why it wasn't on an album than any other in history but finally appears here. Another slow song that builds and the vocal harmonies that combine to sing the words Skylon make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. London Stone is an acoustic guitar reading of the theme from Mead Hall In Winter from Grimspound. The Passing Widow is Rachel Halls second writing credit on the album. Apparently recorded live in the studio it is a vocal and piano track in the main with some orchestration towards the end. It is an emotional song with an emotional subject but at the end you can feel hope love and respect all rolled into one. It is the stand out track on the album and is unlike anything else the band have done purely for its simplistic arrangement but overall effectiveness. The Leaden Stour is another slow kind of song that sets a mood of actually feeling as if you were walking along by the river. The jazz feel at the end nods a big wink to Steely Dan. Terra Australis Incognita is a reprise of a theme from Experimental Gentlemen. If you are listening on vinyl that is the end of the first record. Clocking in at just under forty minutes it is a nice little album on its own considering it is meant to be a companion. It has a more lazy feel to it. Not in the sense of the work that has gone into it but lazy as in mellow and laid back. It is certainly not the place I would send first time listeners to the band but it is an album that deserves to stand with the others.

But there is more. On to the second record and we have the Brooklands Sequence which is the joining of On The Racing Line and Brooklands together. For some strange reason, Brooklands never really impacted on me when listed to on Folklore. But now the song stands out in all its glory and I can appreciate it for the great piece of writing that it is. London Plane Sequence does the same thing with an acoustic piece added to the front of London Plane again from Folklore. This song gets better and better every time I hear it. Finally The Gentlemens Reprise finishes the album.

For a band to produce three albums of such high quality music in just over a year is astonishing. This album finds the band at their pastoral best and gives the listener another view of a band making its way forward. Word has it that the band will be moving in a different direction for the next phase of their career but whatever they do, they now have a strong writing force in place that will not want to compromise on quality or professionalism.

I can't wait to see them live in September. It's only a thirty six hour, three thousand or so mile round trip for me. Yes......I am a fan!!! I hope you are too dear reader. Pass it on !!!!!!

***** Dave Smith

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