Looking death straight in the eye
You will never feel that much alive
For anyone in the prog world, Roine Stolt is a grand and solid name, a trusted master of the craft and a man as honest about his opinions as anyone ever has been in the rock world. From The Flower Kings to Transatlantic to Anderson-Stolt to Steve Hackett’s band, Stolt is anywhere and everywhere excellence is.
Simply put, when I think of Stolt, I imagine that other master of amazing things, Tom Bombadil. And, yes, that means Goldberry is nearby. “He is.”
The new Flower Kings, WAITING FOR MIRACLES, is a thing of beauty, delicate yet everlasting. Sounding a bit like FLOWER POWER and SPACE REVOLVER, the new album has everything a fan loves: mystery, lingering, soaring, contemplating, undulation.
This is glorious and mighty prog.
The album opens with the fragile and compelling “House of Cards,” moving immediately into the Tennyson-esque rage against fate, “Black Flag.” Followed by ten-minute “Miracles for America,” a plea for the future of the free world, and then another ten-minute track, “Vertigo,” disk one is nothing if not dizzying. If there’s a rock anthem on the album, it’s track no. five, “The Bridge,” which might very well have topped the rock charts in 1983, with its reminder of the theme of the album, “waiting for miracles.” “Ascending to the Stars,” track six of disk one, gives us a mysterious and dark Flower King, an instrumental and orchestra joy somewhat reminiscent of Kansas in its heyday. Despite its name, “Wicked Old Symphony” is the poppiest of the tracks on disk one, a track that hints at the Beatles as well as early 1970’s America. “The Rebel Circus,” track eight, is another wildly wacky and infectious instrumental, followed by the intense and aptly-named, “Sleeping with the Enemy.” The final track of disk one, “The Crowning of Greed,” is a poem, at once reflective in theme, and progressive in tone.
Disk two is much shorter than disk one, and I have no idea if it’s meant to be a “bonus disk” or a continuation of the album. That track one of disk two is a reprise of track one of disk one does nothing to answer my confusion about all of this. Track two, “Spirals,” is a feast of electronica and reminds us once again of the theme of the album: “Call on miracles—For America.” “Steampunk,” the third track of disk two, seems to take us back into the world of adventures. If “Black Flag” followed the voyages of Ulysses, “Steampunk” has us follow Aeneas. The final full track of the album, “We Were Always Here,” is a rather beautiful rock song, reminding us of life and its unending beauties. “It’s so simple in its purities/All that genius—life energies/like forgotten springs of melody.” Disk two ends with the 52-second long bluesy circus piece, “Busking at Brobank.”
Overall, WAITING FOR MIRACLES, is a joy. It’s not just a joy as a Flower Kings album, it’s a joy as a rock album. Anyone serious about his or her rock music should add this to the collection. One final note—while I’m not wild about the cover art (too political for my tastes), I absolutely love the interior art, making a physical purchase of WAITING a must.
P.S. I proudly bought my copy from my favorite store, Burning Shed.
As some of you might now, I’m in the middle of completing a book manuscript on the history of the Inklings for ISI Books. Here’s my partial list of critical moments in the creation of Tolkien’s larger mythology, from its earliest hints to the publication of The Hobbit.
“Bidding of the Minstrel” (poem) Winter 1914
“Tinfang Warble” (Poem) 1914
On Francis Thompson (paper) 1914
“Earendil” (poem) September 1914
“Kalevala; or Land of Heroes” (paper) November 22, 1914
“The Story of Kullervo,” (story) late 1914
“Qenya Lexicon” (dictionary) 1915
On the Kalevala (paper) February 1915
“Man in the Moon” (poem) March 1915
“Sea Chant of an Elder Day” (poem) March 1915
“Cottage of Lost Play” (Poem) April 27-28, 1915
“Shores of Faery” (poem) July 1915
“The Happy Mariners” (poem) July 1915
“A Song of Aryador” (poem) September 12, 1915
“Kortirion Among the Trees” (Poem) November 21-28, 1915
“Over Old Hills and Far Away” (Poem) December 1915-February 1916
“Habbanan Beneath the Stars” (Poem) December 1915 or June 1916
Prelude, Inward, Sorrowful (poems) March 16-18, 1916
“The Fall of Gondolin” (story) 1916-1917
“Tale of Tinuviel” (story) 1917
“Cottage of Lost Play” (story) February 12, 1917
The Music of the Ainur (story) Between November 1918 and Spring 1920
“Turin Turambar & the Dragon” (story) 1919
“The Fall of Gondolin” (story aloud) Spring 1920
“Lay of the Children of H” (poem) 1920-1925
“The City of the Gods” (poem) 1923
Question if Beren a man or elf 1925-1926
“Lay of Leithian (poem) 1925-September 1931
“The Silmarillion” (story) 1926
“Silmarillion/Sketch” (story) 1926
“Intro to Elder Edda” (paper) November 17, 1926
“Mythopoeia” (poem) September 1931-November 1935
The Hobbit (novel) Late 1928-1936
“The Quenta” (story) 1930
“Earliest Annals of Valinor” 1930
“Annals of Beleriand” 1930
Second version of Silmarillion 1930-1937
“New Lay of Volunga” (poem) early 1930s
“New Lay of Gudrún” (poem) early 1930s
“A Secret Vice” (paper) 1931
“Fall of Arthur” (poem) 1931-1934
“Beowulf: Monsters and Critics” (paper) November 25, 1936
“The Lost Road” (story) 1936-37
“The Fall of Númenor” (story) 1936-37
Draft of Silmarillion to Allen/Unwin November 1937
“On Fairy Stories” (paper) March 8, 1939
 CJRT, HOME 2, 269.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 107.
Garth, Tolkien at Exeter, 30.
 CJRT, HOME 2, 267; Garth has it on November 27, 1914; see Garth, Tolkien at Exeter, 41.
 Flieger, ed., The Story of Kullervo, 63, 91.
 Parma Eldalamberon 12 (1998).
 Garth, Tolkien at Exeter, 42.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 202.
 Garth, Tolkien at Exeter, 42.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 27.
 CJRT, HOME 2, 271.
 CJRT, HOME 2, 273.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 25.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 108.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 91.
 CJRT, HOME 2, 295.
 CJRT, HOME 2, 146; and CJRT, The Children of Húrin, 9.
 CJRT, HOME 2, 3.
 Edith writes out story for JRRT, HOME 1, 13.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 45
 CJRT, The Children of Húrin, 9.
 To the Exeter College Essay Club, in CJRT, HOME 2, 199.
 CJRT, HOME 3, 1.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 136
 CJRT, HOME 2, 52.
 CJRT, HOME 3, 1.
 CJRT, HOME 2, 300.
 CJRT, HOME 4, 11.
 CJRT, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, 16.
 CJRT, Tree and Leaf, 7.
 “The Hobbit,” in Scull and Hammond, JRRT Companion and Guide, Reader’s Guide 1, 509-522.
 CJRT, HOME 4, 76.
 CJRT, HOME 4, 1.
 CJRT, HOME 4, 1.
 CJRT, HOME 5, 107.
 CJRT, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, 5.
 CJRT, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, 5.
 Given for Johnson Society, Pembroke College. See Fimi and Higgins, eds, A Secret Vice, xii.
 CJRT, Fall of Arthur, 10-11.
 CJRT, The Monsters and the Critics, 1; and Drout, ed., Beowulf and the Critics.
 CJRT, HOME 5, 8-9.
 CJRT, HOME 5, 7-9.
 CJRT, HOME 5, 107
 CJRT, The Monsters and the Critics, 3.
If there’s a rock band more criminally ignored than IZZ, I have yet to encounter it. To give you an idea of the sheer sonic glory of their new album, imagine the perfect follow-up to both GOING FOR THE ONE and DRAMA, and you’d come very close to discovering the glory of DON’T PANIC. And, throw some classier King Crimson and ELP in as well.
Admittedly, I’ve been a fan of IZZ for years now, but this album even took me by surprise. I knew it would be more than solid when it arrived on my doorstep, but I had no idea just how much of a ride I was going to get.
I could follow those bass lines to Neptune and back.
One of the single best aspects of the album is simply that the band clearly loves making music—music as a thing in and of itself as well as music as a communal activity. There’s joy perfectly meshed with seriousness on this album, and the band never shies away from proclaiming its love of . . . well, love. Few albums more distastefully destroy cynicism than DON’T PANIC. Even the very title is calming in a hyperkinetic, uplifting way!
Squire-esque bass lines, unusual but harmonic rhythms, and complex vocals really define the album, musically. Yet, it all works; it’s all gorgeous.
Don’t let the Yes comparison above throw you off. There’s no doubt that the members of IZZ love Yes and probably learned much of their craft form the English-prog rock gods. But, IZZ takes the Yes vibe into a whole new realm, especially in the interplay of male-female vocals.
I really didn’t think the band could top their previous trilogy (which inspired me to say my rosary more often than not—no joke) and John Galgano’s solo album, REAL LIFE IS MEETING, but DON’T PANIC is the more than worthy successor to all of the previous efforts. Now, I have to convince myself to be content with this one for a while, because, frankly, I’m already eager for the next one.
Patience, Bradley, patience.
Happy birthday, Greg, master of the TrainYard!
If all of this sounds too intelligent and too good to be a part of popular culture, it’s because it is! No, no, no. This is not pop. This is art. True, good, real, and beautiful. Imagine, for a moment, how many other manifestations of secular culture take seriously a Christian saint, let alone analyze the very stones used in the art of Byzantium? Truly, what this band offers us is a precious gem. And, while the members of the band (at least as far as I know) are not religious, they certainly take the religion of the past quite seriously. Not just Theodora, but the band has also written gorgeously on its previous releases about St. Edith, the granddaughter of King Alfred, the first great English king, the first to codify Anglo-Saxon common law, and the blessed recipient of Marian visions.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/05/big-big-train-grand-tour-bradley-birzer.html
Part II of our symposium. A second indepth look at the philosophy and emotions behind Big Big Train’s latest album, GRAND TOUR.
Beginning with genteel blushings and awed whispers, David Longdon’s vocals—so plaintive and so earnest and so full of wonder—begin Grand Tour by sharing hard-earned wisdom.
After all, this story begins far from home, and the craft in question flies along shadowed paths beyond all human sight, but never beyond human imagination. By whatever measure of success or failure, the craft made the attempt. And, by necessity, so did those who launched it in the first place.
Whatever the fate of that craft, it was made by human hands, and those hands should be celebrated. And, thus we should celebrate not just the act of creation but the very life that gave the very intelligence to act.
We are, after all, ALIVE!
And thus begins Big Big Train’s latest album, Grand Tour, a masterpiece even among masterpieces. Ostensibly, this hook—which catches onto the eighteenth-century ideal of English travel throughout the European continent and, especially, into and around the Mediterranean and Aegean—ties the latest album together. By employing such a story, the band can travel not only across space but also back through time. The album explores ideas and as well as biographies.
This is, simply put, an album for the intelligent and meaningful person.
With track three, “The Florentine,” the band looks at the very core of the Italian Renaissance and one of its four greatest figures, Leonardo.
On track four, “Roman Stone,” the band digs deep back into western civilization, finding the very stones that created the Roman Republic and the various Mediterranean powers of the ancient world. There is both regret at the loss and admiration at the gain. See what we once were, the band claims. See what we could’ve been, the band asks. After all, things that have broken have often been made whole again. Sometimes even with the very material that had fallen into ruin becomes the cornerstone.
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