I'm a relative newcomer to Big Big Train, but after being impressed by the last 2 albums (2007's 'The Difference Machine' and a re-recorded 'English Boy Wonders' the following year) I was eagerly anticipating this latest release.
More than just songs, the intricacies and depths of these pieces may take a few listens to appreciate, but after a while they really sink in, and you're hooked! I like the overall ambience - of stories set to music, giving a sense of celebrating overlooked fragments of England's past, and perhaps a feeling of melancholy for things that have been lost to history.
Aptly, for a band of this name, this music really takes you on a journey. The 23 minute title track is a tour de force, incorporating ambitious songwriting and arrangements with brilliant performances by a talented line-up. The latter includes guest musicians such as Nick D'Virgilio from Spock's Beard on drums and vocals, and Francis Dunnery (It Bites) and Dave Gregory (XTC) on lead guitar. The incorporation of brass wind instruments on this track and others is a masterstroke that really helps BBT establish a unique sound. The vocal arrangements by new vocalist David Longden are also uniformly impressive.
'The Underfall Yard' is a huge leap forward for this long-standing but hitherto quite low-profile band; Big Big Train certainly deserve a wider audience for their fine, if not indispensible, contribution to contemporary rock.