Merchants of Light

Merchants of Light
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Big Big Train hardly sounds like the name of a band that would produce thoughtful, carefully arranged and performed folk-influenced rock, but that’s exactly what it is. While a host of people have been in this band over its nearly 30 years, the band is led these days by original member Greg Spawton and lead singer (and flautist) David Longdon.

Their new double album, Merchants of Light, captures a rare live performance in London. The band is big, with 11 members on stage, including a five-piece brass section. They make warm, lush music that rewards careful listening.

In “Swan Hunter,” for example, a song about the closing of British shipyards, Longdon sings, “Tell me what do you do/when what you did is gone?” The song reflects on the changing times and does so in a way that conveys the emotion behind the real human toll societal change brings. When the brass comes in near the end of the song, one feels the sadness and the “tears enough to fill the Tyne,” a river in North East England. The band goes from hard-hitting to gentle without losing its strong melodic center.

Merchants of Light is a spectacular album from a band with a wonderful catalog of songs. Clocking in at over two-and-a-quarter hours, there is plenty here to like. This is music worth savoring. (English Electric Recordings)

About the Author

Robert J. Keeley is professor of education at Calvin College and director of distance learning at Calvin Seminary.