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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

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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.
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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

REVIEW: Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson – TAAB2 Thick As A Brick 2

Jethro Tull’s IAN ANDERSON – TAAB2 Thick As A Brick 2 (EMI 2012)

Holy crap!  This is a great album!  I have no hesitation in ranking this among my favourite Jethro Tull albums.  And yes, I consider this a Jethro Tull album.  All that is missing is Martin Barre.  The story goes that Martin does not enjoy the studio process, and the album is billed as “Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson”.  Something like that Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi disc.  Or, Blackie Lawless & W.A.S.P.  David Coverdale & Whitesnake.  The list goes on!

This is what I would consider quintessential Tull:  Lots of fluttery flute, nice acoustic moments, and very traditional sounding bits. All this with stunning electic riffs, and complexity of arrangement like a roller coaster.  And my God, what an album!  I have confidence in saying that Thick As A Brick 2 is a fine sequel.  Not The Empire Strikes Back, nor The Wrath of Khan…it’s more Aliens.  Catch my drift?  Don’t expect the same thing.  What you loved about the original might be here in different form.  This is a sleeker Brick, 40 years older, dealing with the modern age and the passage of time.

The concept is this:  Where would Gerald Bostock from Brick 1 be, 40 years after that newspaper?  Ian Anderson images five”might-have-beens”.  Perhaps Gerald would become a big money banker.  Or an opposite of that; homeless.  What forks might Gerald take in the road?  And where do they end?  This story inspired Anderson to write some excellent music.  And yes, the album is divided into songs.

There are numerous musical themes that recur, tying the album together.  There are also musical clues from Tull albums past.  The biggest hook on the album is the main riff in “Banker Bets, Banker Wins”, a stunning triumph.  “Swing It Far” is like harder Tull, and it’s splendid.  There are numerous excellent flute, organ, guitar, and piano solos, but also plenty of hooks and catchy riffs.  Just listen to “Old School Song” as an example.

Ian has assembled an excellent band:  David Goodier is the current bassist in Jethro Tull.  Also from Tull is keyboardist John O’Hara.  On guitars is the very talented Florian Opahle.  On drums is Scott Hammond, who has filled in with Jethro Tull.  You can see why it is easy to consider this a Tull album.

Of all the new albums released so far in 2012, Thick As A Brick 2 is one that I have played most frequently, it has simply captured me.  In spite of this, I still have not even watched the included DVD!  A 5.1 mix of this great album is included, as well as making-ofs and interviews.  I’ll have to get around to watching this (when the wife isn’t watching her damned sports).

5/5stars