Tag Archives: progressive rock

Best of Yes, Post 1983

For most music fans, and especially prog rockers, Yes existed between 1969 and 1983.

Some would even end Yes around 1979.

Amazingly enough, though, Yes still exists. And, while the band has never produced a perfect album since 1983’s 90125, it has produced a number of tracks equal to the best of the “classic Yes” period.

The two best albums of this later period were Magnification (2001) and Fly from Here-Return Trip (2018).

For those interested (and with ears to hear), here are my favorites from 1987-present.

  • Birthright (Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, 1989)
  • Dreamtime (Magnification, 2001)
  • Endless Dream (Talk, 1994)
  • Evensong (Union, 1991)
  • Fly From Here (Fly From Here-Return Trip, 2018)
  • Homeworld (The Ladder, 1999)
  • I’m Running (Big Generator, 1987)
  • In the Presence Of (Magnification, 2001)
  • Into the Storm (Fly From Here-Return Trip, 2018)
  • Life on a Film Set (Fly From Here-Return Trip, 2018)
  • Magnification (Magnification, 2001)
  • Minddrive (Keys to Ascension 2, 1997)
  • New Language (The Ladder, 1999)
  • Order of the Universe (Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, 1989)
  • Shoot High Aim Low (Big Generator, 1987)
  • Silent Talking (Union, 1991)
  • Spirit of Survival (Magnification, 2001)
  • Subway Walls (Heaven and Earth, 2014)
  • Themes (Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, 1989)

Seeking the Humane: Big Big Train’s “Grand Tour” ~ (Birzer’s Second Review)

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

Big Big Train – Official Website

Inspired by the 17th and 18th century custom of the Grand Tour, where young men and women travelled to broaden the mind, Big Big Train have made an album of songs set in distant lands and beyond.

Grand Tour will be released on May 17th 2019 and is available to pre-order now on double heavyweight gatefold vinyl (featuring a 24 page booklet), digipack CD (featuring a 52 page booklet) and on standard and hi-resolution (24/96) download. Grand Tour will be available on all good streaming services on release day.
— Read on www.bigbigtrain.com/

Tim Morse III (Album Review)

Tim Morse, Tim Morse III (Cymbalick Music, 2018). Tracks: Wake Up; Labyrinth; The Marquis; The Path; The Mary Celeste; My Ally; and Circle/Talisman.

For any one who has followed progressive rock over the past twenty-plus years, the name Tim Morse means something.  Something very good.  Something very special.  Not only is Morse the author of one of the very best books ever published about Yes—Yes Stories: Yes In Their Own Words—but he’s a serious and truly gifted musician in his own right.

His latest cd, Tim Morse III, is nothing but a delight and a pleasure.  Morse is, to put it at its most basic, classy.  He has taste.  A lot of it. 

True to prog, he can jump from style to style as well, all with elegance and ease.  Tim Morse III has hints of Yes, Big Big Train, Lifesigns, Genesis, Glass Hammer, Steely Dan, Dave Brubeck, and others. When he needs a keyboard jam, there’s a keyboard jam. When he needs a guitar to soar, the guitar soars. While his vocal range isn’t huge, it’s quite solid, and he knows how to use his voice to its best. Heck, he even gives us cow bell on track six, the wonderfully nostalgic “My Ally.”

Most importantly, though, it’s clear that Morse loves what he does.  There’s an infectious optimism to his music that is absent in so much recent prog music. Without naming names, too many musicians have gone down the path of cynicism, outrage, and naval gazing. In short, they have become obsessed with their own worries and fears, calling their bloviatings about politics, art. It’s not, and it’s a sad moment in prog history.

Even when Morse is dark—such as on the second track, “Labyrinth,” or on the fifth track, “The Mary Celeste”—he doesn’t leave the listener there. We see the darkness, maybe even experience it, and, then, we move on.  The themes of this album are not some unrelenting and unremitting tenebrous existence but but a life of joy, forgiveness, love, and redemption.

Frankly, having spent way too much time over the last six months watching the news cycle and the social media circus that devolves from it, I’m finding Tim Morse III a breath of alpine air, clear, cool, and wholesome.

Actually, to be even more blunt, Morse’s music makes me want to be a better father, a better professor, and a better writer.

Birzer Guide to Art Rock and Pop

Spirit of Cecilia Books has begun a series of ebooks–Cecilia’s Notations–on the history of modern music (mostly rock, pop, and jazz).

Other volumes in the series, forthcoming: on Talk Talk, Big Big Train, Rush, Glass Hammer, Tears for Fears, and Kate Bush.

To purchase the first volume of Cecilia’s Notations, Birzer Guide to Art Rock and Pop, please click here. It’s only $2.99.



This Strange Engine by Marillion (1997)

This Strange Engine (1997)

Twenty-two years ago, Marillion released its album, THIS STRANGE ENGINE.  It should be remembered that this is the fifth album to feature the voice and lyrics of Steve Hogarth.  As such, reviewers still had to compare the Marillion of Fish to the Marillion of Hogarth.  While THIS STRANGE ENGINE earned its just share of good reviews, it also had reviewers crying that while Fish had innovated, Hogarth rested. 

AllMusic went so far as to label THE STRANGE ENGINE “ordinary.”

If only.

Granted, Marillion had just come off two of its most powerful and unrelentingly intense albums–BRAVE and AFRAID OF SUNLIGHT–but this should not lessen the power of THIS STRANGE ENGINE.  Rather, it should add context.

Why Spirit of Cecilia?

For six years, I was one of five folks who founded and ran a website dedicated to reviewing and promoting music.When we formed in October 2012, we originally wanted to be a fan site for the English (and now Anglo-American-Scandinavian) band, Big Big Train.  We broadened our reach almost immediately, attempting to review music of all forms.  

We ended up having a blast, to be sure.

After six years, though, several of us thought it was time for a change.  That is, time to take us not just into music but into all of our cultural loves: music, art, poetry, fiction, history, biography, and film. Certainly, we could’ve done that with the old site, but that site had taken on a life of its own.  We wish them nothing but love and success!  We’re certainly not leaving music behind with the Spirit of Cecilia, but we are adding quite a bit to it. So, not just Big Big Train, but Big Big Train plus Margaret Atwood, T.S. Eliot, Willa Cather, Miles Davis, Leo Strauss, Philip Melanchthon, Sir Thomas More, Edmund Burke, Alfred Tennyson, J.R.R. Tolkien, Kevin J. Anderson, Christopher Nolan, and Alfred Hitchcock.

We threw around a number of titles for this website, knowing all along that our inspiration was St. Cecilia, the Roman Catholic (and Anglican) patroness of music and the arts. Traditionally, St. Cecilia is depicted as a young woman, holding and performing on some kind of instrument, with an angel or two watching over her. Though quite Catholic, such depictions are most likely Christianized updates of the muses inspiring a Mediterranean musician.  

Kevin McCormick finally came up with the name, “Spirit of Cecilia,” and it stuck.  Indeed, more than just stick, it seems perfect for what we want to do. 

And, this brings us to a second form of inspiration for the title–arguably the greatest album of any type of music of the last six to seven decades, SPIRIT OF EDEN by Talk Talk. With all due apologies (and praise for) to James Marsh, the cover artist, I did my best (and, sadly, my best is pathetic!) to create an icon something akin to the original 1988 cover to that album.

My terrible imitation of Marsh’s work.
Ok, show off.  Art by James Marsh, 1988.

Well, as is natural for all human institutions and works, this website will evolve over time as well. No matter what, though, we promise to write our best, to think our best, and to give you. . . you guessed it. . . our best. Thanks for joining us.  We hope you enjoy the ride.

–Brad Birzer