It's a sign of the growing importance of Big Big Train that original members Greg Spawton & Andy Poole have been able to convince some major figures to join them to form what they now regard as the definitive line-up of the band. In the last couple of albums they have been joined by David Longdon on vocals & flute, Nick D'Virgilio (Spock's Beard) and Dave Gregory (XTC), and the result was the huge leap forward that turned 2009's The Underfall Yard into one of the most satisfying albums of recent years (in any genre!)
English Electric is testament to the confidence that they got from the public response to The Underfall Yard. A long double album (this first volume is an hour long) to be released in two stages, this album has the sort of maturity and depth too frequently lacking in "prog" in general. None of the solos run on longer than necessary (one of the most striking is played on violin) and time-signatures show less of the A.D.D. that is symptomatic of the genre. The music has complexity and virtuosity, but never for their own sake.
Nevertheless, this IS a prog album: very like classic Genesis in feel and with hints of mellotron alongside the live strings, brass and vocal groups that ornament these deeply felt songs. "Winchester from St. Giles' Hill" strikes that typically nostalgic note ("the story in the stone and the lie of the land") but the lyrics only make apparent which is already implicit in the powerful music.
"Summoned By Bells" is another highlight (the album's nearest counterpart to the title track of The Underfall Yard) with soaring vocals and a more upbeat feel that gives way, unexpectedly, to a jazzy, laid-back passage where the brass players are allowed to stretch out a little.
I could go on & on, but I'll leave it by saying that this is one of the best things I've heard all year. If you have any interest at all in the folkier end of the prog section, it should be high on your Wish List.