Written by: Paul Gleason
Solidifying all the band’s strengths, Big Big Train’s Folklore bursts with nine beautifully written and performed songs that remind us of the power of stories to strengthen and unite humanity. Moreover, it’s a reminder of music’s ability to explore the confluence of history, mythology, and place. This reminder is crucial during a time of fragmentation, atomism, xenophobia, and technologically mediated social relationships (e.g. Facebook, Twitter).
On the opening track, lead singer David Longdon’s “Folklore,” Big Big Train creates a manifesto for the album’s themes. Upbeat, joyous, and featuring Rachel Hall’s Celtic-influenced violin, “Folklore” finds Longdon singing, “Let us begin where it all began / Fireside flickering flames make the shadows dance.” The folky vocal melody, alliteration in the lyrics, and references to time contribute to a sophisticated yet catchy tune. And Big Big Train’s “passengers” will inevitably ride Folklore nonstop to “Telling the Bees,” Longdon’s album closer, which proclaims that storytelling is life’s ecstasy: “the joy is in the telling.”
In between “Folklore” and “Telling the Bees,” rich stories abound. Bassist and cofounder Greg Spawton contributes three stunning epics: “London Plane,” “Along the Ridgeway,” and “Brooklands.” “London Plane,” for example,” begins as a lovely piece for acoustic guitar and flute, and then other instruments slowly emerge to augment Spawton’s lyrics, which review 400 years of London history told from the perspective of a tree. The delicate guitar and violin solos in the song’s midsection lead to some of Longdon’s most emotional singing and the band’s most complex playing on the record.
Perhaps the most unexpected song on Folklore, Longdon’s “Winkie” chronicles the adventures of a pigeon that rescued the crew of a downed Beaufort bomber during World War II. The band – Spawton on bass, Nick D’Vigilio on drums, David Gregory and Rikard Sjöblom on guitars, and Danny Manners on keyboards all shine – create a rollicking backdrop for Longdon’s exciting adventure tale.
“Salisbury Giant,” “Wassail,” and the David Bowie-inspired “The Transit of Venus Across the Sun” complete the album with even more elegance, grace, and gripping stories. Big Big Train’s Folklore on your turntable might just change your direction in life.