Tag Archives: progressive rock

Profoundly Tangible: Nick D’Virgilio’s Invisible

Being a fundamentally HUGE (yes, it’s that large!) fan of Big Big Train, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Nick D’Virgilio’s solo album, Invisible.  I proudly own his first album, Karma, his first EP, Pieces, every Spock’s Beard album, and Rewiring Genesis.  To be sure, I presumed I would like Invisible, as I consider NDV our greatest living drummer, armed not only with rhythm (Holy Moses–that drum kit!) but with vocal prowess as well. And, from what I can tell from social media, he seems like a truly good and genuine person.  

All of this adds up to high expectations for Invisible.

Well, it is even better than I expected. And, I expected a lot.

If you asked me to sum it up in a few words or even analyze it track by track, I couldn’t do it.  This is a whole work of art—something to be digested in one sitting. Relentlessly captivating, it mixes progressive rock with classical with (ok, I was surprised by this one) with 1960’s style R&B with some mid-1970’s Styx with some punk-tinted Rush with broadway musicals with electronica with funk with straightforward rock and pop.  Frankly, Invisible has it all. In this sense, it fits Andy Tillison’s definition of progressive—basically, “whatever I damn well want to throw in, I throw in” (my words, not Andy’s).

What most captures my imagination with the album, though, is NDV’s lyrics—so utterly earnest and so uplifting.  In every song, NDV calls us to be our best. That NDV loves life is a certainty as certain that the sun will rise tomorrow, and his joy comes through every song.

If you’re looking for a new BBT or Spock’s Beard album, this isn’t it. And, that’s perfectly fine.  Frankly, it doesn’t even really seem like a simple evolution from NDV’s previous solo efforts.

Invisible is . . . beyond all of this in ways that are very difficult to put into words.  

But, if you’re looking for something gorgeous, something meaningful, something real, something inspiring. . . look no further.  If anything, NDV has proven that real life is quite the opposite of being invisible. Rather, NDV calls us to be our best, to be tangible, and, frankly, to be the incarnate souls we’re meant to be.

To find out everything about NDV, click here: https://www.nickdvirgilio.com

Passion Incarnate: IZZ’s Half-Life (2020)

Well, let me admit, immediately and without hesitation, I’ve been a huge fan of IZZ since I first heard them a little over a decade ago. In everything they do, they combine passion, taste, and elegance.  One might even describe their music as an earnest intensity.  Lyrically, the band never dumbs itself down, but offers words of majestic inspiration and serious contemplation. 

Their latest release is an EP, appropriately and rather cleverly entitled Half-Life, itself comprised of three new tracks and one live track.  The three new tracks—entitled, in order, “The Soul of Music,” “Into the Sun,” and “Half Life”—offer grand progressive visions, reflecting, respectively, IZZ’s deep appreciation and love of Kate Bush and Chris Squire and Yes;  Rick Wakeman and Big Big Train and ELP; and, perhaps most interestingly of all, Stranger Things(the Netflix series) and Kansas and Glass Hammer.  

None of IZZ’s appreciation of other progressive rock acts gets in the way of that uniquely beautiful IZZ voice.  Indeed, such appreciation on the part of IZZ of other bands only makes IZZ all the more interesting, honed, and glorious. And, just in case it might seem like the music overwhelms the listener, the lyrics simply soar, especially on “Half Life,” bringing the listener to the verge of tears in the last several second of the track.

The final track is a rather stunning live rendition “The Weight of It All” from the band’s Ampersand, Vol. 1, album.

In this current whirligig of viruses, protests, injustices, and anxious unrest, do yourself a grand, grand favor—treat yourself to the humane, cultivated, and class act that is IZZ.  Your soul will thank you.

[To support IZZ (and for a mere $5), click here: https://izzmusic.bandcamp.com/album/half-life-ep]

Heartfelt and Intelligent: Auto Reconnaissance by The Tangent

In the not so distant past, I had the opportunity (and, perhaps, the gall) to label Andy Tillison the “G.K. Chesterton of progressive rock.” As I listen to the latest release by Tillison’s band, The Tangent, I can only nod in approval at my earlier assessment.  He has always been a master of story, but, on Auto Reconnaissance, he reveals himself as a master of story telling. Light your pipe, sip from your pint, and pull yourself up next to the fire. Tillison has several tales to tell, and he does so in the best way, as a friend rather than a teacher.

Auto Reconnaissance begins with the discovery of radio—not just its function, but it’s essence—on “Life on Hold.”  It’s a short piece, by The Tangent standards, but it offers the perfect introduction to an album that demonstrates the wonder of life.

The second track, the second longest on the album, “Jinxed in Jersey,” tells the story—quite convoluted at times—of Tillison’s journey to the Statue of Liberty. Naturally, the story can be understood at many different levels, the literal but also the symbolic. If, on track one, the boy Tillison discovered the workings of radio, on track two, the adult Tillison discovers the realities and complexities of America.  The renaissance—or was that reconnaissance?—continues.

The third song, “Under Your Spell,” has a Tears for Fears feel, akin to “Working Hour” on Songs from the Big Chair.  Melancholic in theme, the song is tasteful to the extreme.

“The Tower of Babel,” track four, is the shortest on the album, but it’s intense and unrelenting with its disco-esque beat. A clever look at the techno-babble of the modern world, as the song’s title indicates, Tillison wonders just how we manage to speak to one another with so many types of technologies (where is that simple radio of track one!?!?) and so much noise in our modern whirligig of a very human (and very flawed) world.  “The system is human, too!”

At nearly one-half of an hour long, “Lie Back and Think of England,”—a jazzy, pastoral meditation—provides the brilliant backbone to the album.  Where are those hills and those dales?  On this track, especially, Tillison proves his title as the Chesterton of the prog world.  The song’s structure harkens back to the first two albums of The Tangent, and it is a gorgeous harkening, filled with passionate solos and musical lingerings and wild segues.

The final track of the album, “The Midas Touch,” provides the proper conclusion to such a complex album, offering a jazz-fusion odyssey.

The previous two The Tangent albums were deeply (and, at times, distractingly) political, but this album is appreciatively cultural. Indeed, it is Tillison and the band at its absolute best.  Heartfelt, clever, tasteful (yes, I know I’ve used this word already in this review) and, most of all, intelligent, Auto Reconnaissance is a true work of art, taken as a whole and even analyzed in parts.  Tillison proves that he remains England’s red-headed mischievous genius.

Beauty’s Lease: Big Big Train

Nothing Big Big Train does is unimportant in the world of music or in the larger world of art. As such, its most recent release, Summer’s Lease, is an important cultural marker, a signal act of beauty in a terribly—at least at the moment—ugly world. It’s as though Spawton, Longdon, and Co. are stating: hold on just a bit longer. . . we’ll all make it.

The album begins with the enchanting and pastoral instrumental, “Expecting Snow,” followed by a majestic—and reworked—version of “Kingmaker,” one of the oldest songs in the BBT canon, but a song that never tires and never grows old or out of style. The song is approaching, quickly, its thirtieth anniversary.  Again, though, it only gets more interesting with age.

From here, BBT jumps forward two years, to 1995, and offers us a glorious reworking of the very first track to appear on CD, “Wind Distorted Pioneers.” Danny’s delicate-turned-jazz piano work and Rachel’s lush strings (as opposed to heavy guitar) make this a track to behold and celebrate. Truly, this track is a thing of wonder.

The band then gives us an in-studio live version of Swan Hunter’s rather sensuous and pondering “Summer’s Lease” and a subtly reworked version of track two of The Underfall Yard, “Master James of St. George.”

To conclude disk one, BBT offers a slightly shorter version of “London Song.”  What was once barely over 34 minutes is now, with a bit of pruning and reworking, just barely under 34 minutes. Each version though—whether the original download or this CD version—is simply outstanding, a manifest demonstration of BBT’s compositional skills and dedication to excellence.

Disk two is, for the most part, much more straight forward with few surprises: “Victorian Brickwork”; “Judas Unrepentant”; “East Coast Racer”; “Curator of Butterflies”; “Swan Hunter”; “Transit of Venus Across the Sun”; Nick’s latest song; and “Brave Captain”.

On disk two, the only real surprise is the just-mentioned Nick D’Virgilio’s latest song, the undeniably mesmerizing “Don’t Forget the Telescope,” a track of seemingly endless possibilities, a tangle of love intertwined in a spirit of exploration. The song feels live, and it feels as though we’re listening to it an Irish baptism or wake (you know, the kind wake that celebrates life) being held on the south side of Chicago in the 1920s.  Glorious.

Finally, I must write something about the packaging.  BBT understands well that its fan base likes tangible things, and this package does not disappoint.  Each of the two CDs come in nice cloth sleeves, the booklet is long (though, in Japanese!), and Sarah Ewing’s artwork is. . . well, just perfect and fantastic. Indeed, this is now my favorite BBT album cover. I would love to own a print of it.

No matter how bleak the world looks at the moment, Big Big Train wields the light, encouraging us to keep going, no matter the cost and no matter the doubt.

Big Big Train's Passenger Club: update #3

Well, it’s that time.  That glorious time.  Two weeks later, and Friday.  This means that Big Big Train has updated, once again, its Passenger’s Club membership-only fan service. And, for this third update, I am reminded yet again how good BBT is.  This week’s update comes in four (well, really five) parts.

First, there’s a new song, one written by Greg roughly ten to twelve years ago.  It’s a love ballad for his wife, Kathy. Tender and fluid, “Sundial” might have ended up on Bard. Thus, it can probably be regarded as a “b-side,” if BBT created such things.  I like the song quite a bit, and it fits nicely onto the Master Passengersonglist/album I’m slowly compiling as BBT releases each new song.

Second, there are a number of really nice photos taken during the Grand Tour rehearsals.  Honestly, when the Passenger Club first emerged on February 14, I thought this was the weakest part of the service.  But, I’m proven wrong here.  There are no weak parts to the service, and these photos are really interesting. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to repost them, so I’ll refrain from doing so.  But, I like them—really nice captures of the band.

Third, Nick Shilton give us yet another fascinating look into the marketing and branding side of the Big Big Train business. Shilton has a winsome writing style, and he clearly understands that the band must continue to innovate as entrepreneurs as well an innovate as artists. He sums up everything best about BBT in his final sentences of his update: “The BBT ethos is to strive for top quality in everything that the band does. If on occasion we fall short of that with the Club, we’re sure that you will let us know and we will always seek to rectify any issue as soon as possible.”

Fourth, BBT has released not one but TWO new videos!  One is of the orchestration conducted at Abbey Road Studios, and the other is a “Behind the Scenes” look at the creation of the “Make Some Noise” video. When this first came out, I loved Dave Gregory’s “Slash” hat. If anything, I love it even more seven years later. There’s something quite humorously rebellious and defiant about the hat.

Well, there you have it. Granted, the world kind of reeks at the moment, and we’re either suffering or waiting to suffer—but that doesn’t negate the importance and permanence of the good, the true, and the beautiful. No matter how miserable things might get, BBT reminds us yet again that excellence really does matter.

Big Big Train's Passenger Club: Update #2

It’s that time again–the time (every two weeks) when Big Big Train updates its brand new, shining, glimmering, and more than meaningful web service, The Passenger’s Club.

Update #2 again reminds us of how important and how well done this web service is. In my previous update, I mentioned two other fan services that were, rather, lacking, and I’ll keep this one more positive. Let me just reiterate: BBT does it EXACTLY right.

The highlight of the new material is the achingly beautiful demo track, “Hope Prologue.” It contains everything that makes BBT. . . well, BBT. Soaring guitar, Mission-like flute, bizarre rhythms, tasteful keyboards and brass, and David Longdon’s simply perfect vocals. Even the lyrics–though all too brief–evoke mystery.

Two other additions are here as well. We get a fascinating look at the business side of the band, in Nick Shilton’s masterful “Building a Bigger Bigger Train” (which should’ve been titled, “Building a Better Better Train).

Finally, we also get a confessional video–thoughts from the band members on their first appearance and arrival in Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios.

If you’ve subscribed to this service, amen. If not, do so immediately. I’m also really glad to see that BBT is not erasing what it released two weeks ago. The new material is an addition, not a replacement. Thus, all of the older material remains accessible.

As I’ve typed many, many times before: Ave, Spawtonius and friends!

Whether you’re a fan of BBT, specifically, or prog, generally, this service is excellent. Enjoy.

Forthcoming Glass Hammer

The Tennessee-based prog rock band extraordinaire, Glass Hammer, has announced its next studio album, DREAMING CITY.

From the band’s official description:

Glass Hammer returns to the world of THE INCONSOLABLE SECRET with 2020’s DREAMING CITY. Perhaps the group’s most powerful musical statement to date, DREAMING CITY tells the story of a “desperate man…as doomed as they come” who must fight his way through a spectrum of horrors to rescue his lover. We find out early in the album that the protagonist has only three days to find her before she dies; a dilemma which sets the stage for all that is to come and guarantees an emotional roller-coaster ride for the listener.

For my own longish take on the band:

America’s single most innovative and interesting rock band is also, sadly, one of its least known and appreciated.  This needs to end, and the sooner, the better for all concerned.  Amazingly enough, the band Glass Hammer is now celebrating its 26th birthday, and it’s about to release its seventeenth studio album.  This is an astounding achievement in the world of art and, especially, in the world of rock.  To add even more accolades, the band exists because its two founders were and are perfectionists, refusing to compromise on their own vision of what excellence is.

. . . click here: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/birzer/glass-hammer-giving-meaning-to-time-space/

Forthcoming: Genesis 1967-1975, The Peter Gabriel Years

[Our friend and ally, Greg Spawton, has begun a book publishing firm, Kingmaker, and has announced the first book, Genesis, 1967-1975: The Peter Gabriel Years. Here’s the announcement, with the pre-order link at the bottom–}

Two of the almost constant elements of my life have been music and books. On the music side of things I am a member of Big Big Train, but involvement in book publishing remained an unfulfilled dream. However, last year I formed a company with journalist Nick Shilton which has a goal of publishing high-quality books about music. Our first book is now available for pre-order from our official store Burning Shed. The book has been written by Italian author and journalist Mario Giammetti and is called Genesis 1967 to 1975: The Peter Gabriel Years. 

I have read of lot of books about rock bands and music in general and I have to say that this volume is an absolute gem. It tells the story of the early years of one of progressive rock’s most important bands. It is full of original interviews with band members and associates which have never before been published in English. There are photographs and insights in the book that cannot be found anywhere else. Most importantly, while the Genesis story is an interesting one full of personalities, the focus throughout the book remains on the most important thing of all: the music. 

I would like to thank Mario for trusting us with his wonderful words. I would like to thank Octavia Brown who translated the book into English from the original Italian and has put her heart and soul into this project. I would like to thank Geoff Parks who proof-read the book with his customary eye for detail. Finally, I would like to thank Nick for being a most excellent publishing partner. 

–Greg Spawton (of Kingmaker and Big Big Train)

If you would like to pre-order the book (a highly recommended course of action!) the Burning Shed link is here:

https://burningshed.com/store/kingmaker/mario-giammetti_genesis-1967-to-1975_book?fbclid=IwAR2O8m6y4InDxAsAsCxnY0qttnyKFohRekyNyZWxRXV_Zl4hJ43gUGDkHaU

The Passengers' Club by Big Big Train

While most of the western world celebrated Friday, February 14, as the secularized Feast of St. Valentine, preparing for a Cinema Show of epic proportions and armed with chocolate surprises, I celebrated it as International Big Big Train Day. 

Granted, by international, I mean several counties in Michigan, but still. . .

On Friday, February 14, Big Big Train launched its much anticipated web-based fan service, The Passengers’ Club. Let me state immediately: this is, by far, the best such service I have seen.  While I belong—rather proudly—to Marillion’s fan service, I have never been totally satisfied with it.  As much as I adore Marillion, I think the service is a tease.  More than anything else, I feel like my subscription subsidizes their advertisements to sell me more stuff.  Granted, I buy it, but I am less than completely satisfied with the service as a whole. Most frustrating by far, though, is Neal Morse’s fan service. I belonged to it for years—happily receiving several cds and dvds a year. Then, suddenly, it all just stopped, switching all of the great releases to mere downloads. Honestly, I feel as though I was totally ripped off. As such, I finally quit my membership about six months ago. I subscribed for a year too long. Trust me, don’t go near Morse’s service. Admittedly, I still love Morse’s music and his integrity, but he needs a serious reexamination of his attitude toward his followers.

BBT’s, however, is extraordinary. The service offers three levels of subscription: one year; two years; and lifetime. Though I am alone to blame, I initially only saw the first two subscription options, and I went for the two year.  Had I been thinking properly and had I been observing what should’ve been observed, I would’ve signed up for the lifetime subscription (Patron). If you’ve yet to subscribe, don’t overlook the Patron option. 

Through the service, BBT is offering music, videos, essays, and photos. Admittedly, the photos did not do that much for me (though, they’re fine photos), but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the other three sections (“platforms” in the presentation). 

The brightest highlight of The Passengers’ Club, though, is the music platform. Indeed, the two songs released thus far are worth the entire subscription price.  The first two songs are the 17-minute “Merchants of Light” and the (almost) three-minute long demo, “Capitoline Venus.” BBT promises new music and new content every two weeks for the next year and claims that we’ll be receiving four full CDs worth of music over the next two years. Though I’m only speculating, I’m assuming this is the equivalent (perhaps, a 1:1 perfect correspondence) of the long-discussed Station Master’s release.  

The second brightest highlight (close to the second brightest star, it turns out) is Greg’s writeup about the songs.  Stunning stuff, to be certain.  Not surprisingly, Greg is a master of the word—whether in essays or in lyrics.  I’d share some of what he’s written with you, but I agreed not to when I signed up for The Passengers’ Club, and, believe me, this is a trust I hold sacred.

Here’s hoping I’ll see you at the Concourse.

Go here to subscribe: https://thepassengersclub.com