Reviewed by DBSilver on 30 May 2002
Bard is the 3rd album from Big Big Train. Underneath the mellow facade is power and energy built from the emotionality of the songs. Time will tell of course, but I suspect that Bard will turn out to be good enough to end the year somewhere on my short list for best of the year 2002.
One of the key strengths of this album is in the vocals - they are great both in lead and in the tastefully used harmonies. While neo-progger's will go for this music, categorizing this music as neo- would be way off the mark and I certinaly would not limit it's appeal to fans of neo-.
English King leads things off - a haunting melody wonderfully sung - traits common to much of this album.
There is plenty of internal diversity as in the 14 minute song which follows: Broken English. The song goes through numerous changes as the story telling progressses. There is a fine female vocal to lead, an excellent male vocal answer and then a duet passage. Following this, the song breaks into an instrumental jam that occasionally hints to me of Yes type chording. The song then moves onto a piano part which transitions the song to another instrumental section - led first by guitar and then taken over by a Tony Banks style keyboard section (complete with Collins/Genesis type drums). It is here that a song - which previously sounded nothing like early Genesis manages to capture just that instrumental flavor very effectively. Moving away from this sound, Broken English transitions to an electric guitar driven section which drives the song through to it's conclusion. This makes for a very powerfull ending to what initially seemed to be a soft-spoken song and results in of the best prog songs I have listened to over the past 10 years.
This is Where We Came In has a vary catchy melody lead by a great male vocal in the way that brings to mind portions of Day for Night by Spock's Beard.
The very short instrumental interlude Harold Rex Interfectus Est transistions to Blacksmithing which has perhaps the most catchy of the wonderful vocal melodies on this album. Melotron (or something similar) drenches the sound with a sharp high guitar brush surrounding the edges of the sound. This is not a 'heavyweight' song, but it sure is beautiful and fits the album in the same way as Genesis songs such as Entangled, Ripples, did on the album Trick of the Tale.
The song Malfosse is a 53 second interlude of Eno-esq mood transition leading to the upbeat Love is Here Thing., a song with nice vocals but probably overall a little weaker than the ones that preceded it.
Another instrumental transition in the form of How The Earth From This Place Has Power Over Fire moves us onto A Short Visit To Earth a real jem of composition where the interplay of the bass and acoustic guitar is fresh dividing the threads and lines of the instruments in manner which at times borrows it's style as much from Joni Mitchell and Joan Armatrading as from prog. This is a 7 minute song which seems longer because it is quite varied. The plea - 'Dance with me; stay with me' hints at Supertramp.
For Winter again makes me think of the ballad vocals of Spock's Beard but nothing else here does. Another haunting melody leads this 16 minute track with stong lyrics that capture the overall feeling:
'This isn't rocket science -
why can't we make it work'
'If you can read me like
I'm an open book.
Come and read me and weep.'
This is good stuff and encapsulates the meloncholy feel of much of this music both in the words and in the music.
Long Finish closes this outstanding album sounding very much like Anthony Phillips or the the Entangled sound of Genesis but moves on to lead electric guitar leading playing over another fine example of Tony Banks style keyboard. The song revisits the melody of For Winter later bringing forth another guitar lead (sounding a more than a bit like Steve Hackett) afterwhich it revisits other sounds and songs previously heard on this recording. In the middle is another great Tony Banks sounding keyboard part. All of this wraps to a closure with a revisit to English King - the track which started off the whole album.
This is a perfect close out the album - leaving the listener with the experience of having heard a composition - not just a collection of songs. This is high praise from me as it is something I consider to be one of the rare qualities of vintage prog.
I have given many hints to the sounds of other bands, but the net effect - the totality of recording is something that sounds like nothing and no-one - except to sound like the band Big Big Train on this CD - Bard. This is not the greatest CD ever made - but it is damn good. BBT's ability to bring to mind so many great bands while sounding original catipults this to a must-hear/will-enjoy 2002 release.