Bursting Out by Jethro Tull

May 22, 2010

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As I make my way through the Jethro Tull catalogue, I am reviewing this album a little out of order as it was released between Heavy Horses and Stormwatch.I do this because it provides a fitting conclusion to the first part of Tull’s career. The 1980s would find a far different group both in terms of sound and personnel.

Bursting Out remains one of the better live albums of its era. It also provides a better retrospective of their first ten years than any of their greatest hits or compilation albums at the time.

The album is not one live concert but rather each track is taken from a different show. While it has an excellent live feel, the songs do not flow into each other and should be taken individually rather than as a collective whole. I am reviewing my original two disc vinyl LP but beware as some of the early CD releases eliminated certain tracks which diminished the appeal and impact of the album.

It is fitting the group’s classic line-up is featured on this release. Leader Ian Anderson, guitarist Martin Barre, keyboardist John Evan, drummer Barriemore Barlow, keyboardist David Palmer, and bassist John Glascock are the musicians listed and represent the best of the Jethro Tull line-ups.

The first two tracks, “No Lullaby” and “Sweet Dream” get the album off to a thunderous beginning courtesy of Martin Barre and his guitar. At the other end of the album is an elongated “Aqualung” with a lot of improvisation on the bride between the chorus’ and a hard rock version of “Locomotive Breath” which finds the group moving toward their sound of the future.

In between there are a number of fine performances. The twelve and a half minute rendition of Thick As A Brick is preferable to the forty minute album version and is this piece of music at its finest. The middle acoustic section is highlighted by “Songs From The Wood.” “A New Yesterday” from Stand Up is given a nice bluesy work-out. There are also definitive live versions of “Cross Eyed Mary,” “Jack In The Green,” and “Skating Away On The Thin Ice of A New Day.”

Most of the songs that helped to make them one of the better and unique rock groups of their generation are presented here. Bursting Out remains Jethro Tull at their live best.

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Stormwatch by Jethro Tull

May 16, 2010

Stormwatch is the third and final release of what has been labeled as Jethro Tull’s folk/rock trilogy. It also brought to a close a very strong period in the history of the group.

Change was in the air. While Stormwatch has similarities to Songs From The Wood and Heavy Horses, the music had begun to travel in other directions. The sound was heavier and the lyrics were much darker as they explored a number of environmental themes. Today, given all the worry about Global Warming, I am amused by the concern for a new ice age.

This would be the final album for Tull’s longest lasting and arguably best group of musicians. It would serve as the final hurrah for drummer Barriemore Barlow, keyboardist John Evan, arranger/keyboardist David Palmer, and bassist John Glascock. Only band leader Ian Anderson and guitarist Martin Barre would be around for the next album. Glascock would die of a heart condition and would only play on three of the ten tracks. Anderson would play the bass parts on the rest of the album.

Stormwatch is a consistent album with no real highs or lows. It is a little weaker than its two predecessors, but still remains a solid if not spectacular listen.

I have found the two longest tracks the most interesting. “Flying Dutchman,” at just under eight minutes, has a number of tempo changes as it ebbs and flows away. Anderson contributes some fine flute solos which give this song about boat people an elegance. “Dark Ages” clocks in at over nine minutes and while it may be a few minutes too long, it remains a powerful performance.

“Orion” is one of the three songs which feature John Glascock on bass, and is the one I consider his farewell as his playing is excellent throughout. “Something’s On The Move” is a nice rocker which is driven by Martin Barre’s guitar. “Old Ghosts” is the fusion of an acoustic and electric sound which they were so good at creating. “Dun Ringill” is a wonderful little acoustic piece.

The album was released during September of 1979 and would be the final release in one of the best catalogs of the decade. While it may not be their best album, it is still very good.

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Heavy Horses by Jethro Tull

May 16, 2010

Jethro Tull returned during April of 1978 with their second in their trilogy of folk/rock albums.Heavy Horses was musically very close to its predecessor Songs From The Wood, although the lyrics would be a little darker in places. It would continue their commercial success and receive sales awards in The United States, Canada, and their home country.

The band’s lineup remained intact. Flutist/songwriter/vocalist Ian Anderson, guitarist Martin Barrie, drummer Barriemore Barlow, keyboardist John Evan, keyboardist/arranger David Palmer, and bassist John Glascock had been together for a number of years and the musicianship was tight and excellent throughout. This would be Glascock’s last full album with the group as his health had begun to deteriorate which would shortly cost him his life. His playing on this album would allow him to go out in style.

Ian Anderson returns to the English countryside for musical and lyrical inspiration. The poetry of his lyrics is some of his best and his flute playing floats over the rock/folk rhythms. David Palmer’s orchestral arrangements and additional keyboards enhance and fill out the sound.

I have always placed this album just a notch below Songs From The Wood but it still is one of the stronger and satisfying releases in the Tull catalogue.

The strongest track is “Acres Wild.” Anderson acknowledges his English Celtic roots as he fuses up-tempo medieval music with seventies progressive rock. He even manages to make the whole affair melodic. Close behind is the title track. Barre’s guitar and Glascock’s bass performances provide a nice foundation for Anderson’s poetry.

There are several other tracks of note. “Moths” has a beauty about it which is provided courtesy of Anderson’s flute. “Rover” has a light touch and is a nice whimsical interlude. “Weathercock” is another example of what a fine flutist Ian Anderson had become and how unique that instrument made group’s sound.

Jethro Tull would make a number of very different stops during their career but perhaps none are so satisfying as their folk/rock period.Heavy Horses is a fine example of that style as it is earthy, rustic, and above all enjoyable even three decades after its release. It remains Jethro Tull at their finest.

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Songs From The Wood by Jethro Tull

May 16, 2010

Given the grand concept albums, both successful and not so successful, of the previous six years,Songs From The Wood was a breath of fresh air. While the music is tied together by style, overall the songs stand on their own as separate pieces.

I am guessing that this is the Jethro Tull album I have listened to the most times during the three plus decades since its release with Heavy Horses and Aqualung running close behind. I have even bought the CD, which is something I rarely do given my loyalty to my old vinyl collection.

The core of the band remained intact. Ian Anderson as the songwriter/flutist/vocalist plus assorted other instruments, drummer Barriemore Barlow, guitarist Martin Barre, keyboardist John Evan, and bassist John Glascock all provided some of the best performances of their careers. David Palmer, who had provided orchestration arrangements for most of their past albums, now became an official sixth member of the band.

The music was a departure from the progressive rock base of the past. It can best be described as a fusion of Celtic folk and rock music. It had a medieval feel with a rustic quality and the lyrics told wonderful stories. It was also an optimistic album which was far from the dark releases that inhabited the band’s history.

There are some Tull albums where guitarist Martin Barre out shines Anderson, but that is not the case here. Anderson’s vocals, and especially his flute work, are consistently excellent.

The album is one of the finest listens in the Tull catalogue. “Cup Of Wonder” is a celebration which makes you want to get up and dance. “Velvet Green” is a journey through time courtesy of the twisted mind of Mr. Anderson. “Ring Out, Solstice Bells” continues the upbeat nature of the album. “Jack-In-The-Green” is a fairy tale on which Anderson plays every instrument.

The album title is just about perfect as it provides tales of the forest, grass, and sky. It remains as one of Jethro Tull’s finest hours.

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Too Old To Rock and Roll: Too Young To Die by Jethro Tull

May 12, 2010

Too Old To Rock ‘N’ Roll: Too Young Too Die was the left overs from another failed project from the fertile mind of Ian Anderson.

The concept was originally intended to be a musical which was about an aging rock star. I am always amused by artists who wrote about aging and are still performing decades later. Anyway, the project fell through and ten of the songs were released during the spring of 1976. As such it remains another oddity in the Jethro Tull catalogue of albums.

The band’s line-up had remained stable for four studio albums in a row, but now bass player John Glascock was recruited to replace Jeffrey Hammond. He joined returnee’s Barriemore Barlow on percussion, keyboardist John Evan, guitarist Martin Barre, and the ever present songwriter/vocalist/flutist Ian Anderson.

Too Old To Rock ‘N’ Roll: Too Young To Die is a fairly melodic album, but overall the quality is inconsistent. I can’t help but think the album was released because so much time and effort had gone into the project and something had to be salvaged. It would be their least commercially successful release in The United States since 1969’s Stand Up and would not even reach gold record status.

The album contains one excellent song, a couple of very good ones and a great deal of filler. The best of the lot is the acoustic “Salamander,” which is one of their great forgotten songs. The title track is good seventies progressive rock. “Quizz Kid” has a mellow beginning before progressing to some more spirited rock. The other positive is the guitar playing of Barre, as his solos were precise and innovative as he continued to emerge as one of rock’s premier guitarists.

Ian Anderson has always traveled his own path in life. Sometimes he was brilliant and at other times not so much, but he was always interesting. Too Old To Rock ‘N’ Roll: Too Young Too Die was an inspired failure and remains one of the weaker efforts in their seventies repertoire.

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Minstrel In The Gallery by Jethro Tull

May 12, 2010

Minstrel In The Gallery is a fairly unique album by a very distinctive band. Having said that, while there are a couple of very strong tracks, it is not among my favorite Jethro Tull albums.

Many of their releases have any underlying theme but other than Ian Anderson’s reaction to his divorce, the music travels in a number of directions. While not a bad album, it is just not consistent and if I plan on listening to some Tull, this is not an album I would choose. When I gave this album a couple of spins in preparation for this review, it was probably the first time in decades I had listened to it from beginning to end.

One of the best line-ups in the group’s history remained intact for the fourth studio album in a row. Ian Anderson as the songwriter, lead vocalist, and flutist, Martin Barre on lead guitar, drummer Barriemore Barlow, keyboardist John Evan, and bassist Jeffrey Hammond all returned. There were fewer instruments listed in the credits as the band members stuck to basics. David Palmer was also back to co-ordinate the orchestral arrangements.

The tracks that have attracted me down through the years are the albums first two. The title song and “Cold Wind To Valhalla” both begin acoustically but switch to all an out rock mode as they progress. If I created a best of Martin Barre album these tracks would appear on it. He has always been one of rocks somewhat under rated superstars but here he demonstrates why he is one of music’s premier musicians.

“Black Satin Dancer” follows in the same vein but is not as strong overall. It has a melodic quality and a lot of orchestration. The fourth and final track on the first side of the original vinyl release, “Requiem,” is all acoustic and is slow, quiet and sedate.

“One White Duck” begins side two and is another acoustic piece but the lyrics are very obscure and the track never really takes off.

The sixteen minute “Baker St. Musse” medley of five songs has never been a favorite of mine. It is autobiographical, sexual, crude, and contains some self parody.

In The final analysis Minstrel In The Gallery is an acquired taste. It would be an unusual stop for Jethro Tull as they would continue to move in new directions as the seventies progressed.

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War Child by Jethro Tull

May 7, 2010

Jethro Tull returned to the studio during early 1974 to record their first studio album since A Passion Play. The resulting War Child was originally meant to be the soundtrack for a film of the same name. When the film did not materialize a number of songs were released as a stand alone album.

In my opinion it is just as well the movie did not happen. After the one song concept albums,Thick As A Brick and A Passion Play, this release was a welcome relief as its short songs and whimsical approach made it a more relaxed listen.

War Child retained one of the classic Tull lineups. Drummer Barriemore Barlow, guitarist Martin Barre, keyboardist John Evan, and bassist Jeffrey Hammond all returned for the third studio album in a row. David Palmer was back to provide the orchestral arrangements. Ian Anderson would continue as the songwriter, lead vocalist, flute, and saxophone player. Anderson has stated he will never play the sax live again which precludes many of these songs from ever being a part of their concert act.

The music falls right into a progressive rock sound. It would continue the groups run as one of the most popular bands in the world as it reached number two on the American album charts and sold well in their native country.

The first two tracks would go against the grain of the lighter approach of the album as a whole. The title track echoed the theme of the failed film as it told the story of the afterlife of a deceased girl. Palmer’s strings, Barre’s guitar, and Anderson’s multiple talents make it a serious and complex track. “Queen and Country” is political commentary made interesting by the use of an accordion as a supportive instrument.

The remaining eight songs are a much easier listen and were very welcome at this point during their career. “Bungle In The Jungle” may have been a criticism of the inner city, but it was a smooth flowing track and became one of only two songs in their long career to reach The American Top Forty singles chart. “Back-Door Angels” fuses some jazz with their rock approach. “Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day” has an odd beauty to it and remains my favorite song from the album. “Ladies” is a simple song with a renaissance flavor which would look ahead to some of their future work. The final track, “Two Fingers,” was left over from the Aqualung sessions and explores salvation and religion from Anderson’s unique point of view.

War Child may not be among the more creative Jethro Tull releases but it served the purpose of allowing the group to catch its breath before moving on. As such when placed in perspective nearly forty years later it remains frozen in time and is not one of their essential releases.

As with many of my reviews this Article first published as on Blogcritics.org