Well, we have a bumper crop of items here this time round as TWR’s editor has been in listening mode for quite a while recently.

First up I am delighted to be able to bring the latest offering from Karda Estra to your attention. Primarily the work of composer and multi-instrumentalist, Richard Wileman, the latest album- The Seas And The Stars Another album with a concept behind it: the collision between the Andromeda galaxy and our own Milky Way. Heady stuff eh? Even more so when you consider that this idea is compressed into a meagre 20 minutes. That said, Richard and his fellow musicians manage to do more in 20 minutes than others do in several albums. As usual, the music is challenging and thought provoking with more than a hint of menace throughout, in fact, this is really a miniature Gothic masterpiece. If you like your music with a twist, then this is an album you will thoroughly enjoy. Richard’s efforts are always rewarding and thought provoking and this one more than lives up to the standards of excellence he has set - excellent stuff all round.

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Karda Estra; The Seas And The Stars No Image NI CDR 18

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Next up we have another trio of albums by Swedish Prog rockers, Galleon whom you may recall from our last edition and some of our older readers may even remember them from the days when TWR was a paper magazine - and cylindrical discs were just all the rage! Seriously though, I am delighted to have made the re-acquaintance with this band as their brand of rock/prog definitely floats my boat.

First up then is 1995’s King Of Aragon which opens with the jaunty title track, a delightful slice of modern prog, redolent with phrasings which remind me of vintage Gentle Giant and Rush - a combination that definitely works for me! This sets the standard for the rest of the album with tracks such as Crime Wave and Illusive Exhibition demonstrating the ongoing development of this band from their earlier albums which have been reviewed in earlier editions of TWR. An enjoyable slice of prog with a discernable pop twist in places making this one another extremely enjoyable album.

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Galleon: King Of Aragon. Progress Records. PRCD003

Next from the band comes 2003’s From Land To Ocean, an ambitious double CD set which to my mind has definite echoes of Pallas’ The Sentinel about it, not least the cover image which definitely reminds me of that album. Worry not though, dear reader, what we have here is anything but a copy. Three Colours, the first disc’s opening track takes a wry dig at the EU of all things. Fall of Fame takes an equally cynical look at the on going cult of TV celebrity in a brilliant evocation of its subject. Similar sentiments are expressed on most of the remaining tracks that span the rest of the two discs with some bloody fine musicianship thrown in all of which will definitely appeal to anyone with prog sensibilities.

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Galleon: From Land To Ocean. Progress Records. PRCD 011

And finally from the band comes 2007’s Engines of Creation which opens with the gloriously symphonic AI (that’s Artificial Intelligence to you), a modern prog overture getting things off to a suitably impressive start with some particularly notable guitar work. The Assemblers too is driven along by some fine rhythm guitar playing and equally impressive keyboards while the song itself takes a suitably wry look at the idea of what goes wrong when our attempts to manipulate weather, crops etc go wrong and the results come back to bite us on the collective arse. The idea of mankind’s stupidity os to the fore on several other tracks on this excellent album not least the title track itself which is another brilliant examination of our folly. If you like your prog with a serious message which doesn’t fall into the trap of preaching then any of these albums will provide you with hours of entertainment.

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Galleon: Engines Of Creation. Progress Records. PRCD 029

Finally in this feature we return to some home grown talent with Big Big Train whom I am sure many of you are familiar with nowadays as they are very much in the vanguard of what is called Neo Prog these days and in vogue with critics and prog fans alike. TWR and its sister, The Pavilion have long championed this band since their debut cassette release: The Infant Hercules (which I still have somewhere in the TWR archive). Somehow or other TWR seems to have missed the band’s transition to prog idols but we are proud to play catch up here by casting an eye (and ear) to their latest offerings.

First of these is 2009’s The Underfall Yard. Nostalgia is a common theme in BBT’s work and this album is redolent of it from the opening track: Evening Star a wonderful musical evocation of what anyone with any interest in vintage steam engines will tell you, is a famous Pacific Class locomotive, brought vividly to life here in music. We go back a bit further in time next for an equally fascinating musical portrait of one of the most famous architects from the middle ages. Master James of St George was responsible for, among other things, the magnificent string of castles that are to be found in Wales among them Conway and Caernarfon - a testament to the skill and expertise of these craftsmen and an equally well crafted homage to them is to be found here.

The rest of the album tells equally evocative tales through the medium of music and vocals with a spirit and resonance which anyone with a love of the past and our heritage will eagerly embrace. The band’s musicianship, always of the highest level, reaches new heights here with some impressive performances all round. OK, there are some moments of what to my ears is self-indulgence but if a musician can’t indulge himself whilst creating then what’s the point? The end result is an album of charming and highly evocative music which should easily find a place in any music collection.

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Big Big Train: The Underfall Yard. English Electric Recordings EERCD005

And bringing up the rear for this issue is the latest album from the band, the two part: English Electric: Full Power. Something of a magnum opus this one, initially released as two albums before being combined into one neat package which we have here. Like its predecessor, nostalgia is the key driver (pun intended) to many of the tracks which span the two discs here.

Make Some Noise reminds me in many ways of Steve Hackett’s track, The Show, a brilliant evocation of the summers of youth when the prospect of festival season was all that mattered - guaranteed to bring a smile to the faces of anyone who remembers he heyday of the likes of Reading (God, that makes me feel old!). The First Rebreather tells the story of the inventor of the first practical aqualung - as you do! And it is the juxtaposition of such unlikely subject material that makes these two albums such a joy. Expect the unexpected indeed! I love the banjo-led Uncle Jack with its homage to the English countryside and its dying traditions an elegy for a vanishing past as is Swan Hunter, another brilliant evocation of a bygone tradition, this time the glories of shipbuilding in the North East (something I can relate to coming from Liverpool).

The themes of admiration for and regret at the loss of ways of life, places and even aspects of the countryside itself pervade both albums although there are some more straightforward tracks too such as Judas Unrepentant, the story of infamous art forger, Tom Keating a man who showed up the hypocrisy of the art world in such a brilliant fashion in the 1990’s. Leopards, is a wry evocation of a doomed attempt to rekindle a lost love when you just know too much time has gone by for it to work.

No album by BBT would be complete without its reference to the railways and on the second disc, we have the superb evocation of the legendary locomotive Mallard which still holds the record as the fastest speed achieved under steam. Now, as one of the last people to travel out of Liverpool on the footplate of a working steam locomotive thanks to my late father, I can tell you, the music here brilliantly brings the sheer joy of steam vividly to life in a way I would not have thought possible. Aaah, them were the days!

I can’t really do justice to such a varied and eclectic pair of albums in such a short review but what I can say is that without doubt, BBT have come of age here. This is the work of a mature and accomplished group of musicians whose work thoroughly deserves the plaudits it is currently receiving - more please!

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Big Big Train: English Electric - Full Power. English Electric Recordings EERCD0013