ian anderson

REVIEW: The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (2003)

JETHRO TULLThe Jethro Tull Christmas Album (2003 Fuel 2000)

With an actual new studio album, The Zealot Gene, due in 2022, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album is no longer the final record by the storied band!  It is however the last one with Martin Barre, putting a (night)cap on the largest part of Tull’s discography.  Although it’s a seasonal album, it is very Tull and would not have been a bad farewell if it was indeed the last record (as we all thought it would be).  16 tracks, over an hour in length…but how Christmas-y is it?

With a blast of flute, “Birthday Card at Christmas” addresses those whose birthdays fall during the holiday.  A fine acoustic Tull tune (as they all are), it doesn’t sound particularly seasonal.  Which will suit many of us just fine.  Flute acrobatics stun the senses, trickling out the speakers like little blasts of hail.  Moving on to “Holly Herald”, this instrumental medley has more of the Christmas flavour.  Recognizable carols, with the flute providing the main melody.  Andrew Giddings’ accordion is a lovely touch.  Pure winter delight!

“A Christmas Song” is a Tull original, a re-recording of a 1968 B-side.  It has always been an intriguing song, sparse and stark.  Mandolin and acoustics ring true with the march of a drum behind.  It is logically followed by a re-recorded sequel tune, “Another Christmas Song”, which has its own modern flavour based on keys, flute and electric guitar.  This soft ballad is like the sound of a clean snow on Christmas day, though the lyrics offer more depth.

A jazzy instrumental “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen”, led by flute, reminds of the old Mr. Bean sketch where he conducts the Christmas band, and goes all jazzy.  Barre’s guitar here is sublime.  When Tull get jazzy, they never disappoint.  Just dig it and get down, in the snow!  It’s impossible not to like, especially if you love instrumental acrobatics.  The bass work by Jonathan Noyce just rolls.  Next is the re-recorded “Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow”, a 1982 original B-side.  A little less direct, a little more progressive.  A very Tull-sounding “Last Man at the Party” is another acoustic original.  The lyrics relay images of a traditional Christmas party even if the music is just Tull being Tull.  Bouncing flute, speeding acoustics.

“Weathercock” is a new version of the closing track from Heavy Horses.  It’s more about traditional country living, but with winter imagery.  Not an immediate song by any means, but fitting the vibe of the album.  Moving on to “Pavane” composed by Gabriel Fauré, this lovely tune has exotic, smooth and challenging sections, but it’s not very Christmas-y.  The original was a piano work, but this version balances the spotlight between players.  More seasonal sounding is “First Snow on Brooklyn”.  “I could cut my cold breath with a knife,” sings Ian.  A beautiful string section backs this original song, somewhat epic, warming the soul like a hot coffee at Christmas.

You’ll love “Greensleeved” (a take on “Greensleeves”).  It’s an instrumental version of the traditional classic.  Its ties with Christmas go back to 1686 so it is not out of place here.  But man does it swing!  This is just fun, with monstrous instrumental mastery.  Get up and dance to this brilliant little tune.  Then it’s a remake of Tull’s “Fire at Midnight”, one of their most memorable Songs from the Wood.  This take is more laid back, but is unmistakable as the Tull mainstay.  Somewhat obviously, “We Five Kings” is Jethro’s version of “We Three Kings”, once again rendered in a laid back jazzy instrumental vibe.  Challenging to play, easy to listen to.  Check out Barre’s acoustic guitar solo work.

The excellent single “Ring Out Solstice Bell” conveys that Christmas joy.  It’s likely the most Christmas-y of all the music on this album.  Anderson has an occasional knack for a universal melody and “Ring Out Solstice Bell” lets them float in the cold winter air.  A magical seasonal tune for anybody, even the Scrooges or Grinches on your list.  If there’s only one tune you need on this album, making it “Solstice Bell”.  It is, of course, an update of the original on side one of Songs from the Wood.  (The 2004 single from this album had two exclusive B-sides as well.)

One of Tull’s greatest instrumentals in their long illustrious history was J.S. Bach’s “Bourée”.  There is a new version on the Christmas Album.  It’s different.  Less swing, more relaxed.  Still Tull but not repeating the exact same track from the past.

Finally the album closes on a rare Martin Barre original called “A Winter Snowscape”.  Quiet, gentle, yet determined.  Barre’s acoustic work is shadowed by Ian Anderson on flute.  It is a perfectly understated closer to a unique Tull album.

Of course, like anything else, this album was reissued later on with a bonus live album called Christmas at St. Bride’s 2008.  As a live album it deserves its own standalone review, but it’s unfortunate that to get it, some will have to buy the album twice.  Not very Christmas-y…or perhaps the pinnacle of modern Christmas tradition?

On it’s own, this is a pleasant seasonal album to play while wrapping your gifts or celebrating with friends.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – The Very Best of Jethro Tull (2001)

JETHRO TULL – The Very Best of Jethro Tull (2001 Chrysalis)

Every fan had their first Jethro Tull purchase.  Mine was 20 years ago, with their newly released Very Best of Jethro Tull.  Why not?  I was working at the Record Store when a used-but-mint copy dropped in my lap for only $8 (staff discount).  It was only right of me to ensure it got a good home.

Unlike some “hits” compilations, this one didn’t strike with clusters of songs I wanted to focus on in the future.  Other compilations can do that.  For example I decided to hone in on the Brian Robertson Motorhead album immediately after hearing a double best-of.  With The Very Best of Jethro Tull, I liked it all equally.  I just wanted to get them all, with no particular priority.  It all sounded great to me.

The album is non-chronological and contains some edit versions.  “Thick As A Brick” is cut down from 44 minutes to just three — makes sense.  They chose the first three minutes, which are ojectively the best known.   Other edits are the single versions of “Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die” and “Minstrel in the Gallery”, while “Heavy Horses” gets a new edit bringing it from nine minutes to a more single-like three.  The songs span the 1968 debut This Was to 1995’s Roots to Branches.  Several albums are not represented at all, such as Benefit, A Passion Play, A, Stormwatch, Under Wraps, Rock Island, Catfish Rising, and J-Tull.com.  Justifiable?  That’s up to personal taste.  Several non-album singles are included instead, such as the well known “Living In the Past” and the wicked string-laden “Sweet Dream”.

The album has an excellent flow, only interrupted with the synth-y “Steel Monkey” from 1987’s Grammy-winning Crest of a Knave.  Preceded by the savage “Locomotive Breath” and followed by the tender picking of “Thick as a Brick”, it doesn’t fit in except as a speedbump.  If I may be so bold, I believe “Steel Monkey” was included simply because it would be odd not to include something off that controversial Grammy winner.

While I enjoyed all the songs, the one that stood out particularly strong was “Bourée”. I never heard Bach swing like that before! The diversity of this CD, spanning all styles of rock from progressive to blues to folksy. Yes, the flute can rock and Ian Anderson is the Eddie Van Halen of the instrument.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – Stand Up (2 CD & DVD Edition)

JETHRO TULL – Stand Up (Originally 1969, 2010 2 CD & DVD Chrysalis Collector’s Edition)

Stand Up, from its wonderful cover art (including a fun Jethro Tull pop-out!) to the music in the grooves, is probably my favourite Tull platter. One basic reason is that it sounds like a transitional album, and I’m often drawn to those. It combines the remnants of the blues jams that they specialized in from the Mick Abrahams era (1968’s This Was), and their growing experimental side. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, and it always sounded great — even better on this new remaster.  Stand Up has since been remixed by the very talented Steven Wilson (2016’s Elevated Edition), but if you wanted a CD copy of the original unaltered mix, this 2010 edition is what you need.  (This mix is available on a DVD in the Elevated Edition, but not CD, and they each contain different bonus material.)

“A New Day Yesterday” has the task of opening this new era of Jethro Tull on LP, and it maintains the blues direction.  Then immediately, “Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square” brings on the hippy side, with bongos, psychedlic jamming and the world’s greatest rock flautist.  “Bourée” proves it, as he jams jazz-rock style along to J.S. Bach.  Only Tull can make Bach swing as they do on “Bourée”.  From the upbeat jamming “Nothing is Easy” to the exotic “Fat Man”, this album begins to open up Tull’s diversity.  “Reasons For Waiting” brings on a lush, orchestrated side of Jethro Tull that some would call pompous and others would call delicate and quaint.  But then they just flat out rock — with flute — on album closer “For a Thousand Mothers”.  It’s truly the first diverse Tull album, going from corner to corner to explore whatever their hearts desired.

The Collector’s Edition contains valuable bonus music aplenty.  The first disc alone doubles the length of the album.   It has every bonus track from the previous 2001 remaster, which are the A and B-sides of two standalone singles.  These are the swinging’ “Living In the Past”,  filler “Driving Song”, the powerful (with horns!) and awesome “Sweet Dream”, and my favourite, “17”.   It adds in a mono single mix of “Living In the Past” with some subtle differences.  Two BBC live sessions are included via four live tracks, including “Bourée”.  There are even amusing radio spots. And that’s just the first disc.

The second disc is an entire concert: Live at Carnegie Hall, New York, 4 November 1970.  This would make it a show from the Benefit tour, the album which followed Stand Up.  It includes songs from Benefit, such as “Sossity; You’re a Woman”.  It also previews the future Aqualung classic “My God”. It is, of course, a great live show…it’s Jethro Tull in their youth after all!  Hear Ian Anderson go nuts on the flute solo!

Another highlight is “Dharma For One”, stretched out to 13 minutes to include a bonkers Clive Bunker drum solo.  The wicked slidey guitar on “A Song For Jeffrey” is really hot on these tapes too.  By this time, John Evan had joined as Tull’s pianist which adds another dimension.  Check out the intricate work on “With You There to Help Me”.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, there is a bonus DVD which contains a DTS 5.1 mix of the whole concert — audio only, however!  If you have the equipment to play it, then enjoy. I will usually resort back to the stereo mix on CD but the 5.1 mix offers some additional depth.

For “things you will only watch once” (or twice if you’re reviewing your collection), the DVD also includes a 45 minute Ian Anderson interview from 2010 to check out.  The split with Mick Abrahams is one of the most interesting parts though the story of the impasse is familiar.  It simply boiled down to styles, and Ian didn’t want to be limited to just one.  As such, he considers Stand Up to be the first real Jethro Tull album; the first to tentatively embark on their world-wide musical journey.  Of course Mick had to be replaced, and Ian discusses three guitarists that tried out, including you-know-who.  Martin Barre was chosen of course, given a second chance after a poor first meeting.

Barre’s furious solo work on Stand Up‘s blistering “We Used to Know” more than justifies the choice.

The packaging is gorgeous, coming packed in a thick, sturdy digipack.  Artwork like this deserves a proper showcase, and unless you buy an original LP, this is about as good as it’s going to get.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – Thick As A Brick (1972, 25th Anniversary “newspaper” CD edition)

“Quite hard to play, and a lot to remember.” — Martin Barre

JETHRO TULL – Thick As A Brick (Originally 1972, 1997 EMI 25th Anniversary CD)

Some albums are more famous for factors other than the music.  Chinese Democracy, for example.  Anyone reading this can say “that’s the one that took Guns N’ Roses 17 years to make.”  Meanwhile, the same can be said for Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick.  Even if you have never heard the album, you probably know “that’s the one that came with the newspaper inside”.  You might even know that it’s only one, long 44 minute song.

All true.  You had to flip the song midway on the original LP, and that side break still exists on CD as the song is split into two tracks.  The 1997 Anniversary edition replicates most of the newspaper too, and though you will be wary of completely unfolding it and getting it back inside the case again, it is still a marvel.  With campy articles, crosswords, horoscopes, ads and news stories, you could read this paper for as long as it takes to listen to the album.  It is certainly among the most fabulous extras ever included with any release, LP or CD.  Top ten album packaging list?  Somewhere near the top.

The main feature of the newspaper is the “fake news” story of Gerald Bostock, the fictional author of the “Thick As A Brick” lyrics.  After an “epic” reading of the words on the BBC one night, a flood of complaints rolled in, and young Gerald was disqualified from the poetry competition.  The concept of the album is that you are to think you are hearing this controversial poem that raised such a ruckus.  Of course, the words were really written by one Ian Scott Anderson.

It’s also one of the most storied Tull lineups to go with the epic album:  Anderson, Martin Barre, John Evan, Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, and Barriemore Barlow with Dee Palmer.  Barlow was the new guy, replacing original drummer Clive Bunker.  The piece is credited solely to Anderson.

Opening with delicate picking, it is soon joined by light flute.  Then drums, electric guitar and piano, building bit by bit.  The first three minutes have been used as an edited version for compilations.  They are probably the most accessible three minutes of the song, but it is well worth hanging on!  A jazzy rhythm here, some wailing guitar there.  Sections of beautiful piano melody.  Absolutely stunning flute playing.  Vocals return, stronger and more forceful.   This holds together for a long time as a pretty singular work, with lengthy instrumental sections between the vocals.  Then 12 minutes in comes the organ solo.

The song bounces back and Ian returns to the front, ranting about class.  It’s a surprise when the familiar opening guitar figure returns, but it is all one song after all.  This ushers in a folksy section, which eventually comes back to the power of progressive Tull.  A loud, rhythmic guitar outro takes us to the end of the first side with a hefty serving of organ.

The second side could not possibly open with as much panache as the first, nor should it, being the middle of a song.  After a brief respite, we are back into the heavy progressive Tull, and then a drum solo.  Exotic melodies dominate the first few minutes, when the drums do not.  The acoustic guitars return as they eventually must, and the song resumes a path like the one that it began with.

From moment to moment, Tull are not at all shy of showing you how smart-guy they are.  Those who adore challenging rock music will be right at home, drinking in every sudden time change and rippling solo.  The second side is thick with daunting rock.  Those who find this too pretentious to take seriously are already out of the room.  They’ll miss the thundering timpanis and cascading organ/flute duos.  Their loss.

 

What makes Thick As A Brick special is not the packaging.  From section to section, the song remains compelling.  Every part has some kind of hook or performance that draws you back.  By playing the 3:03 version, you are missing too much action.  You can’t pretend that such an album isn’t ostentatious.  You either like it (usually admiring and aspiring all the while) or you are repulsed by it.

The 25th anniversary CD comes complete with a 12 minute live rendition from much later, in 1978, from New York.  That means it’s John Glascock on bass, as Hammond had left in late 1975.  This abridged version has some of the majesty of the album, coupled with the excitement of the live stage.  Finally there is a 16 minute interview with Anderson, Hammond and Barre.  They explain the organic construction of the music, and the painstaking process of the packaging.   Though you can also get the 40th anniversary boxed set remixed by Steven Wilson, if you are just looking for the original album on CD, this edition is the obvious one.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! (TV special edition – 2CD/2DVD set)

JETHRO TULL – Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! (1976, 2015 Chrysalis TV Special edition 2CD/2DVD)

I foresee a future time, when every man woman and child will be able to buy deluxe multi-disc box sets of just about every album ever made.  While old geezers with greying beards will sit back in a rocking chair (a hovering one, no doubt) listening to multi-track backing tapes for every single Poison CD, our children will be able to do the same with a comprehensive book-box version of the NSync debut album.  It’s going to happen eventually, so we may as well get good albums like Tull’s Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! in box set form while the concept still has validity.

Of course this isn’t the first Jethro Tull album to get this kind of treatment.  A super deluxe Aqualung was a fairly recent release, and I received Benefit myself for Christmas last year.  The bold four-colour album cover for Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll makes for a splendid book-form box with plastic CD trays inside.  An absolutely massive (80 page) full colour booklet awaits you inside.  Rare photos are the norm of course, but a features such as “From Carmen to Tullman” about the late John Glascock are valuable reads.  Detailed liner notes will help you make sense of the track listing, and the multiple versions of each song included.  Almost all of this material is rare, previously unreleased, or newly mixed material by studio wizard Steve Wilson.

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Scan_20151229First of all, I was not aware that all of Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll was re-recorded for a UK television special, included here on DVD.  Anderson had a theatrical presentation in mind, so playing live wasn’t of interest to him.  But, apparently due to British law, the LP Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll could not be used for backing music on a “live” TV special.  Anderson’s vision seemed to involve the band miming to the album while pulling amusing faces and occasionally acting out the lyrics.  In order to mime and do it legally, brand new recordings of every song had to be made!  In fact the band painstakingly took great care in recreating the album, although there are also obvious differences.  For the DVD and CD, these tracks been newly mixed and are available for the first time.  CD 1 contains the standard stereo mix of the re-recorded album.  DVD 1 has the special in both stereo and 5.1 surround.

The original album was also meant to be remixed top to bottom in 5.1 by Wilson.   This was not possible, because the original multi-track tapes survived for only five songs, almost the whole second side:  “From a Dead Beat to an Old Greaser”, “Bad Eyed and Loveless”, “Big Dipper”, “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll”, and “The Chequered Flag”.  Tull’s semi-acoustic nature lends itself well to a good 5.1 mix.  The audio field is filled out, but not to excess.  It’s a good balance and the tracks included in 5.1 shine with fresh light.  Do not be surprised to hear parts you didn’t hear before.

The bonus associated tracks are a light collection of rare Tull.  The two bonus tracks from the prior 2002 remaster, “One Brown Mouse” and “A Small Cigar” are included here unaltered on CD 2, or on lossless 96/24 stereo PCM on DVD 2.  The unreleased tracks are excellent.  “Salamander’s Rag Time” sounds like the Jethro Tull collaborating with the Beatles via “A Day in the Life”.  Meanwhile, “Commercial Traveller” is a lushly arranged and recorded ode to the road with full strings and Martin Barre guitar blazes.  “Strip Cartoon” also has quaint Beatles-isms though it is really just a bright Tull acoustic jaunt.  An incredible instrumental take of “Salamander” is pure delight, hearing it ring in live perfection.  There is also a bare acoustic version of “A Small Cigar”, and earlier versions of “Quiz Kid” and the title track.  As always, these are available on both the CDs and DVDs.  Four of these (“Salamander’s Rag Time”, “Commercial Traveller”, “Strip Cartoon” and the acoustic “Small Cigar”) can be heard in 5.1, again mixed by Wilson.  Expect the same level of lushness and quality as the album tracks, although with the acoustic arrangements, it’s more about the spaces between.

One of the great advantages of the DVD format is the ability to re-release classic Quadrophonic mixes for modern audio systems.  Like many rock bands (and especially progressive rock bands) of the early 1970’s, Jethro Tull released Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll in Quad.  That long unavailable version is right here in 4.0, on DVD 2.  It’s certainly an interesting animal.  Where Steven Wilson’s 5.1 mixes envelope the listener in clouds of Tull music, the Quad mixes things hard into individual channels.  It’s an interesting experience.  The vocals are mostly on the right, the flute behind, and the other instruments tucked into their corners.  If you want to hear it as if the music is coming from four separate corners of the room, then this Quad mix is that exactly.  There is something to be said for this, because you can clearly hear each instrument isolated, and easy to study.  You can easily lose yourself in a particular part of the mix, which is the benefit and weakness of the format.  Regardless, the classic 1976 Quad mix has parts you won’t hear elsewhere, and it’s available again, and that is a good thing.

With all this talk of extras and remixes and surround sound, the original album is almost overlooked!  Fear not.  A bit like an afterthought, the original, stereo, classic Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! is here, as the final 11 songs on CD 2.  Even the Benefit super deluxe box set didn’t include the original album on CD.  If you prefer lossless stereo, it’s there on DVD, too.

What of the original album, then?  Well, I reviewed that in 2012, and you can read all about it here.   A brief summary:


 

SAM_1882Like many Tull albums from the mid-70’s, there’s plenty of acoustics to go around accompanied by lovely flute passages and complex drum patterns.  There’s also some horns and orchestration courtesy of David Palmer (not yet a full member of the band).  Personal highlights:

  • “Salamander”, a folksy number with intricate acoustics.
  • The harmonica riffing of “Taxi Grab”, reminiscent of an earlier bluesier Jethro Tull.  The guitar soloing (both electric and acoustic) is also divine.
  • “Big Dipper”, a playful yet complex number with plenty of flute and a fun chorus.
  • The masterpiece title track (obviously), lush with ochestration.
  • “Pied Piper”, one of the most obviously catchy songs on the whole album, albeit still complex with multiple parts and section.
  • The final track of the album, a slow but dramatic grandiose number called “The Chequered Flag (Dead or Alive)”.

 

Too old to rock ‘n’ roll?  Never.  Buy this for the grandpa on your lists.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – Songs From the Wood (Remaster)

For JT!

Scan_20150807JETHRO TULL – Songs From the Wood (1977, EMI 2003, remaster)

I love the jaunty, lighter side of Jethro Tull.  One of the reasons I started listening to Tull was that acoustic side.  It’s unique among rock bands.  They could still be pompous, but in a fun kind of way.  The critics called it “folk rock”, but that is misleading. It’s much more complicated than that.  Songs From the Wood might be considered the epitome of this kind of Tull music.  It was also the first for keyboardist David Palmer as an official member of the band, and perhaps that has something to do with the direction of the album.

The title track begins things immediately with this type of soft playful Tull song.  A multi-layered Ian Anderson sings harmonies with himself, and then the band come in backing him with gleeful but complex music.  Palmer’s synthesizer is immediately obvious, as he doubles down with John Evan, also on keys.  Certainly Barriemore Barlow has to be one of the most underrated drummers in rock, and his work here is as excellent as it is difficult.

Ian plays all the instruments himself on personal favourite “Jack-in-the-Green”.  This character from old English folklore is usually associated with the coming of spring, and the music is appropriate for that kind of imagery.  This kind of song was in part inspired by the countryside that Ian had relocated to.  While there he read a book on folklore, and that made its way into the music.  It’s hard not to like “Jack-in-the-Green”, unless you’re just a Grinch.  “Cup of Wonder” is brilliant, a celebration with orchestration and bright melodies.

“Hunting Girl” is the first song that delivers a big heavy riff (thank you Martin Barre). The song has a gallop to it, as if you are riding horseback with the Hunting Girl herself.  Martin’s guitar solo is a delight, a brief moment of rock genius.  Up next is a song that was re-recorded many years later for The Jethro Tull Christmas Album:  “Ring Out Solstice Bells”.  It doesn’t feel at all out of place on Songs From the Wood.  It fits the direction and lyrical concept of other songs, with the solstice theme.  Barrie Barlow’s drums on the outro are something else!

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Side two of the album opened with “Velvet Green”, a very percussive song.  Of the tracks thus far, it is the least instantaneous.  It’s one of the longest track at six minutes, and has a very progressive bent.  “The Whistler” on the other hand is pretty instant.  I used to mis-hear the lyrics.  I thought Ian was singing, “I have a pipe, and I’ve come to play.”  I prefer my words to the actual ones, “I have a fife and a drum to play.”  This brilliant little song is about as bright and jaunty as Tull get.  “Pibroch (Cap in Hand)” gives Martin Barre a chance to make a lot of cool noises…weirdly Kiss-like, actually.  “Pibroch” is a long bomber (8:35) and a bit too long at that, but the moments of brilliance shine through, as always.  Especially enjoyable are the quaint “Dr. Who” sounding keyboards near the end.  Just great stuff.  The closer is “Fire at Midnight”, a title that Blackmore seems to have ripped off for his Fires at Midnight album.  It is a brief mostly-acoustic number that returns to the bright spring-like sound that commenced the album.

The Jethro Tull remaster series has been excellent.  Songs From the Wood only has two bonus tracks, which is a darn shame.  “Beltane” shares lyrical themes with other songs on the album.  I don’t know if it’s a B-side or what have you, but it’s clearly from these sessions.  It boasts some of Ian’s best flute work on the disc.  It’s of excellent quality, a worthy bonus track for a great album.  The other extra is a live version of “Velvet Green”, every bit as complex as its studio counterpart.  It’s a bit more lively, perhaps.

People who like Tull would probably love this album because it emphasizes a lot of traits that are unique about Jethro Tull.  Those who hate “folk rock” or progressive rock, or whatever else Tull gets pigeonholed as (classic rock?*) should keep their distance from Songs From the Wood.

4/5 stars

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* Hey, they won a Grammy as a “heavy metal” band.

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – “Ring Out Solstice Bells” (2004 Christmas single)

This review goes out to Jonathan who asked me about a year ago for more Jethro Tull reviews! Here you go buddy, and Merry Christmas!

IAN ANDERSON & JETHRO TULL“Ring Out Solstice Bells” (2004 R and M)

Although Ian Anderson had played seasonal music many times before, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album in 2003 was the band’s first full-blown Christmas disc. The following year, Anderson released an independent single from it called “Ring Out Solstice Bells”, with proceeds set to help a wild cat benefit that he supports. The track “Ring Out Solstice Bells” is an Anderson original, jaunty and gleeful. Jethro Tull’s signature enchanted acoustic sound is well suited to seasonal music, and the vibe is captured on a great original song that doesn’t annoy like other seasonal tunes often do.
RING OUT SOLSTICE BELLS_0002

The traditional “God Rest Ye Gentlemen” is a live version from 2004. It’s worth noting that even though Tull’s Christmas Album was reissued and expanded to include a live CD called Christmas at St. Bride’s 2008, these B-sides are from 2004.  They are still exclusive only to this single. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” was arranged by Ian to be a jazzy and playful upbeat jam, virtually impossible to hate.  It even goes menacingly electric before the ending.  Then, from Aqualung is the brief “Slipstream”, also live from 2004.  It is backed by lush keys.

The packaging for “Ring Out Solstice Bells” is pretty basic, just a single panel digipack.  I do like the little touch of the inside cover doubling as a Christmas card.  If you so wish, you could give this CD to a friend for Christmas, by inscribing their name under “To”, and your own where it says “From Ian  Anderson, Jethro Tull and.”  Of course no collector would do such a thing.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – A / Slipstream (CD/DVD)

JETHRO TULL – A / Slipstream (2004 Chrysalis CD/DVD, originally 1980)

Unlike most Jethro Tull remasters, A did not contain any bonus tracks.  Rather, it includes the only official DVD release of Slipstream, an old Tull live/music video VHS release.

Cole’s Notes version of the history:  A began life as an Ian Anderson solo album, featuring new Tull bassist Dave Pegg and ex-Roxy Music multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson.  Jobson brought along his drummer friend Mark Craney, and then finally Ian asked his Tull bandmate Martin Barre to come in and play on a couple tracks.  Somehow, this turned into Martin playing on the entire album.

Anderson says that the record label, who were pushing for A to be released under the Jethro Tull banner, suddenly announced that Craney and Jobson were replacing current Tull members Barriemore Barlow, John Evan, and David Palmer.  This and other factors led to that exact lineup change, but with Jobson listed as a “special guest”.

A_0004Regardless of the office politics, A is a solid albeit very different and 80’s sounding Jethro Tull album.  I’m not a huge fan of the opener “Crossfire”, but I think that “Flyingdale Flyer” is a great combination of progressive rock Tull with the modern tweaks.  “Working Joe, Working Joe” is OK, but I’m not a fan of that funky synthy bass line.  I love the spacey sci-fi intro to “Black Sunday”, a precursor of sorts to “The Final Countdown”. Then it changes to something a little more challenging with the flute leading the charge.  At 6:39 and with multiple sections and tempos, this is easily the most epic track.

The digital pulse of “Batteries Not Included” is pretty cool, but it’s not really an outstanding track.  “Uniform” rolls along solidly.  “4.W.D (Low Ratio)” is a guilty pleasure.  “The Pine Marten’s Jig” sounds as the title implies, but perhaps just a little more complex than the average jig!  The closing song is the dramatic “And Further On”. Its mood is appropriate for a closer, and I dig that cascading piano.

Incidentally, this is one of those CDs that were “Copy Controlled”.  Boy, did that piss people off.  Some people said you had to take a black magic marker to the outer edge of the disc in order to copy them.  I never felt the urge to try this trick, and it doesn’t matter because the obsolete software does nothing to inhibit ripping today.

And that’s the album.  The DVD Slipstream opens with a homeless-looking Anderson (sleeping under a Thick As A Brick newspaper) being chased by the balloons from The Prisoner.  He then stumbles into a Jethro Tull concert, not a security person in sight!  When has this happened to you?

A_0005Tull then open with a hard rocking “Black Sunday”.  Martin Barre and Ian Anderson are really the only guys that look like they’re in the same band!  The excellent “Dun Ringill” is presented music video style.  It’s like Anderson playing over the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Bowman’s in the pod.  “Flyingdale Flyer” is better, with Tull as some sort of band of interstellar explorers.  Anderson’s facial expressions make this one irresistible.  The next song is once again live, and it is the classic “Songs From the Wood”.  Jobson’s got his hands full with two keyboards!  This is paired with “Heavy Horses” sounding unfortunately cumbersome due to the domination by those same keyboards.

“Sweet Dream”, one of my all time favourite Tull songs, ever, cannot be tamed by the keyboards.  They are there, but the song is powerful nonetheless, as it should be.  In this clip, Anderson plays both the homeless ragged man, and…a vampire!  I actually like this clip a lot.  My favourite clip is “Too Old  To Rock ‘N’ Roll”, the entire band dressed as old men.  This is the album version of the song.

Next is the lovely “Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day”.  On this track, which is live, Eddie Jobson plays a neat electric mandolin.  “Aqualung” is pummeling, Mark Craney keeping busy while also hitting hard.  The set closes with “Locomotive Breath” which starts completely awful, as a new-wave-funk-prog song of some kind, before finally picking up steam as it should.  The flute solo is as brilliant as ever, and I’ll never get tired of watching Martin Barre shake his skullet wildly.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! (remastered)

Next in line of my reviews from Record Store Excursion 2012!  Check out the video below if you missed it.  This one bought at HMV Yonge, as sort of a consolation prize, since they no longer sell Japanese imports (for shame!).  Bought at 2 for $25.

MIKE AND AARON GO TO TORONTO

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JETHRO TULL – Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! (1976, 2002 remaster)

I’m far from a Tull expert; more a layman.  I know what I like though, I like the complexity of Tull, I love Martin Barre’s guitar, and Ian Anderson’s virtuoso flute.  I’ve always liked the title track from this album, “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die”, so it made sense to get the album proper.

It’s another concept album by the Tull, but I’m not too clear on the story details.  It seems to be about an aging rock star, which is funny considering that when Ian wrote it, he was a young man by comparison!  The concept album lends itself to recurring musical motifs, such as the melody from the title track popping up on “Quizz Kid”.

Like many Tull albums from the mid-70’s, there’s plenty of acoustics to go around accompanied by lovely flute passages and complex drum patterns.  There’s also some horns and orchestration courtesy of David Palmer (not yet a full member of the band).

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Personal highlights:

  • “Salamander”, a folksy number with intricate acoustics.
  • The harmonica riffing of “Taxi Grab”, reminiscent of an earlier bluesier Jethro Tull.  The guitar soloing (both electric and acoustic) is also divine.
  • “Big Dipper”, a playful yet complex number with plenty of flute and a fun chorus.
  • The masterpiece title track (obviously), lush with ochestration.
  • “Pied Piper”, one of the most obviously catchy songs on the whole album, albeit still complex with multiple parts and section.
  • The final track of the album, a slow but dramatic grandiose number called “The Chequered Flag (Dead or Alive)”.

As usual, Ian provides liner notes, and dedicates the album to late bassist John Glascock, who died way too young of a heart defect.

There are two bonus tracks included, fully realized songs called “A Small Cigar” and “Strip Cartoon”.

4/5 stars

Part 157: The Year in Review / Top 5

RECORD STORE TALES Part 157:   The Year in Review

So here we are, the tail end of 2012.  While I’m sure you’re just starting to get your drink on, we here at LeBrain’s Blog are tirelessly bringing you the rock even into the wee final hours.  This is the time, traditionally, when we look at the past year!

We used to do Top Five of the Year lists at the record store, when we used to have our newsletter.  Unfortunately I don’t have copies of any of those newsletters, not a one, which is a real shame since I poured my heart and soul into them as much as anybody else at the store.  It would have been fun to look back 15 years and see what my top five of 1997 was.  I do know for certain two albums that were on it:  Accident of Birth by Bruce Dickinson, and The Colour and the Shape by Foo Fighters!  The rest have been lost to the dusts of time.

Hey, if any of you guys are still speaking to me and have copies of the newsletter, lemme know eh? ;)

Back to the present for a moment:

What can I say about 2012?  Before I even thought about doing my own blog, events were in motion that pushed me in that direction.   My good buddy Craig Fee invited me down to 107.5 Dave FM for an entire week — Stump LeBrain Week!  I spent a week on the air, with listeners trying to stump me.  There were even a couple LeBrain Weeks and an entire month of LeBrainuary, where every single day’s 4 O’clock 4 Play quizzes were mined from my own brain’s knowledge.  It was a blast, and left me hungry for more.

I’d always been writing Record Store Tales.  The oldest ones were at least a decade old on my hard drive, but I had no idea what to do with them.  I’d also been writing reviews — well over 800 of them on file before I launched — that very few people had seen.  Craig said to me, “LeBrain, you need to get blogging this stuff.  Write something every day.  If you build it, they will come.”

So that’s what I did, and I thank you for reading.

Back to the Record Store Tales:

I published Part 1 on March 9 2012, the beginning of the story, called Run to the Hills.  It was about the very first time I heard Iron Maiden, a date I’ll never forget.  And thus LeBrain’s Blog and Record Store Tales were launched.

Some highlights from the early months that you may have missed if you’re fairly new here:

So, if you have nothing better to do on this New Year’s Eve, there’s a good waste of time for ya.

And now that we’re done with the preamble…let’s get down to business.

LeBRAIN’S TOP FIVE OF 2012

5. TENACIOUS D – Rize of the Fenix

KG and JB cannot be stopped.  This album is the “Deth Starr” of rock, The D aim “To Be The Best”!   Read LeBrain’s review of Rize of the Fenix here, including all bonus tracks.

4. THE DARKNESS – Hot Cakes

I will never stop loving this band.  Welcome back.  Read LeBrain’s review of Hot Cakes here.

3.  RUSH – Clockwork Angels

My favourite Rush album since Counterparts, at least. Read LeBrain’s review of Clockwork Angels here.

2. VAN HALEN – A Different Kind of Truth

I’d never been more worried that a band would fuck up their big comeback.  Thankfully, Van Halen did not.  Read LeBrain’s review of A Different Kind of Truth here.

And finally…

1. KISS – Monster

You know this was gonna happen.  Aside from the fact that I’m the biggest Kiss fan around, it’s a fucking great record.  Read LeBrain’s review of Monster here.

Runner up:  Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson – TAAB2 Thick As A Brick 2.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!