Living In The Past by Jethro Tull

May 7, 2010

I enjoyed this album when it was released during October of 1972 and I still enjoy it today. I estimate it is one of four Jethro Tull albums which have graced my stereo system the most times down through the he years.

Living In The Past was released betweenThick As A Brick and A Passion Play, providing welcome relief at the time from the long one song concept albums which surrounded it. The title perfectly describes the music as it reached back in time to present material that was very different from what Tull was producing in 1972 and 1973.

The material is an eclectic grouping of songs from their first four studio albums, outtakes, their five song EP “Life Is A Long Song,” and some live material. It would become a huge hit in The United States reaching number three on the Billboard Magazine album charts.

It would also contain their first American hit single. The title song was mellow, mesmerizing, and jazzy. While it was drawn from their past, it was representative of where their unique sound would go in the future. It reached number eleven on the pop charts and remains their highest charting single effort to date.

Two long live tracks took up an entire side of the original vinyl release. “By Kind Permission Of” was a rare group track written by John Evan and not Ian Anderson. It was a jazz flavored piece where organ and flute shared the stage together and gives a nice picture of their concert act at the time. “Dharma For One” is extended out to close to ten minutes and allows flutist Anderson and lead guitarist Martin Barre time to improvise and stretch out a bit.

Other highlights include “Hymn 43” which is always welcome, the brilliant “Christmas Song,” plus “Sweet Dream,” and the short “Nursie.”

The original double disc vinyl release came in a leather-type jacket with a fourteen page booklet of pictures. Many of the subsequent CD reissues have eliminated songs due to timing issues for a single disc, so buyer beware.

Living In The Past remains one of the more unique compilation albums of the seventies. It provides a nice overview of the first part of their legendary career. It may be a hodge podge of material and not have the consistently of their studio albums but, nevertheless, is an excellent album which has held up well since its release nearly 38 years ago.

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A Passion Play by Jethro Tull

May 1, 2010

I have always considered A Passion Play to be the yin to the yang of Thick As A Brick.Musically I tend to prefer Thick As A Brick.It was more tongue in cheek as Ian Anderson was in a relaxed and whimsical mood. As such, he managed to produce a lot of excellent progressive rock within the one 43 minute song. A Passion Play builds on the concept and the style but finds Anderson in a more serious mood. It is more progressive rock, but at times falls victim to excess. Sort of like Monty Python meets cirque du soleil.

Jethro Tull’s lineup stayed intact but added a few more instruments which were central to the sound. Ian Anderson plays a lot of saxophone in addition to his usual flute. Keyboardist John Evan added synthesizers to the Tull sound for the first time which gave the music a new flexibility. Guitarist Martin Barre, drummer Barriemore Barlow, and bass player Jeffrey Hammond all shine in places.

The album is again built around one extended piece but this time around it is divided into 16 sections. The original vinyl release had the tracks run together so it was basically an album to be listened too as a whole. Some CDs have banded the sections which allow the listener to pick and choose and is one of the rare instances I prefer the CD.

A main complaint is the talking parts which connect some of the sections. If they were meant as comedic relief they fall flat and for the most part are pointless.

On the other hand there is a lot of superb early seventies progressive rock contained among the albums 48 minutes of music. Jethro Tull brought their non-traditional sound to this developing music style which enhanced and expanded it and A Passion Play is an excellent example of this technique.

It also has a melodic nature and is certainly not predictable which is positive in this case. I’m not sure I completely understand all the lyrics but this was normal for this period of Ian Anderson’s career.

In the final analysis A Passion Play has a number of highs and lows and evokes strong emotion. It is not an album which graces my stereo system very often but every once in awhile when I am really in the mood it is worth a listen.

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Thick As A Brick by Jethro Tull

May 1, 2010

Aqualung,released during 1971, may be Jethro Tull’s signature release but 1972’s Thick As A Brick is their most ambitious despite Ian Anderson’s protests to the contrary over the years.

Band leader Anderson has always denied that Aqualung was a concept album even if side one of the original vinyl release was a group of character sketches and side two was a series of rants against organized religion. In reaction to it all he decided to create the mother of all concept albums and in the early seventies, at least, that goal was achieved.

I was the program director of my college radio station when this album was issued and I remember not knowing what to do with it as it contained one 43 minute song. The album was structured around a poem by a make believe boy who was really Ian Anderson in disguise. Even the cover was a spoof as it was a copy of a fictitious newspaper. It may have been all in good fun but it became Tull’s first number one album in The United States.

Anderson expands his choice of instruments as acoustic guitar, violin, and trumpet join his usual expertise on the flute. Lead guitarist Martin Barre and keyboardist John Evan had settled in as perfect compliments to Anderson’s flights of fancy. The new addition was Barriemore Barlow who had taken over as the drummer.

While I would have preferred the work to have been divided into tracks or songs and it could have easily been accomplished as there are a number of transitions points which connect mood and tempo changes, it remains a brilliantly conceived and played piece of music. It is an early example of what would become known as progressive rock and as such was a ground breaking release during 1972.

It is an album which requires the listener to pay attention as the mood, structures, textures, and melodies are constantly changing. The lyrics contain wonderful imagery and a lot of hidden meanings which also require your attention. It ends up as an album you really need to be in the mood to play as it requires a commitment of time in order to feel and appreciate it full impact.

The album is a little dated today as the contemporary issues of 1972 are not so current anymore. Still the music will challenge and ultimately satisfy.Thick As A Brick may mean stupid or dull but the album is anything but.

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Aqualung by Jethro Tull

May 1, 2010

Every once in awhile an artist or group issues an album which just resonates down through music history. Jethro Tull created one of those albums when they released Aqualung during 1971.

During the previous three years they had evolved and honed their sound which now revolved around Ian Anderson’s vocals, songwriting, and frantic flute playing plus Martin Barre’s emergence as one of rock’s great guitarists. Also on hand were new bass player Jeffrey Hammond, drummer Clive Bunker, and keyboardist John Evan who had become the bands fifth member.

The opening six chords of the title song are some of the most memorable in rock. What follows are two songs about a pedophile and school prostitute and both are early seventies rock at its best. Anderson’s biting lyrics and accompanying vocal create a visual image of old Aqualung sitting on his park bench. “Cross Eyed Mary” both rocks and rolls her through school.

One of the beauties of the album is the short acoustic interludes which divide the harder rocking songs and allow the listener to catch their breath.

“Mother Goose” is a mostly acoustic tune which continues Anderson’s character sketches. It has a slight medieval feel which would be explored in depth in the future.

If side one of the original vinyl release explores the dark side of society; side two is Anderson’s rant against God or organized religion to be more precise. “My God,” with Martin Barre’s riffing, and “Hymn 43” is ten minutes of Tull rocking the church. After the short acoustic “Slipstream” they move to what would become their signature song.

“Locomotive Breath” begins with a bluesy piano solo and then hits rock mode with Barre’s guitar, Anderson’s vocal and one of the better flute solo’s of his career. The lyrics of Darwin and the church are secondary to the instrumental delights the song contains.

Aqualung would surprisingly only reach number seven on The American album charts but would continue to sell and sell and sell until it became their most commercially successful release selling over three million copies.

It remains their masterpiece and is essential listening not only if you are a Jethro Tull fan but for any fan of rock music.

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Benefit by Jethro Tull

April 29, 2010

Benefit was the third album issued by Jethro Tull. Released during the spring of 1970, it would prove to be a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and earn the group a gold record award for sales in The United States.

For many casual fans, this is a forgotten album in their vast catalog as it was the predecessor to their classic Aqualung. In many ways it was the set-up for a lot of what would follow. They moved in a more progressive rock direction as flutist/singer Ian Anderson and guitarist Martin Barre became comfortable with one another. The sound had a grander vision as more orchestration is apparent and John Evan, who may not have yet been a full group member, provided piano and organ support which flushed out and enhanced the music. Also of note are the bass lines of Glenn Cornick who would leave the group after this release.

“With You There To Help Me” is a complex track as the opening flute sound and harmonies eventually give way to the guitars and a full rock attack. “Inside” goes in a different direction as it has a Renaissance flavor which would be explored more fully on such albums as Songs From The Wood and Heavy Horses.

Ian Anderson would show his eclectic side with two compositions. Michael Collins was the astronaut who circled the moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed and walked on its surface. I’m still not sure if “For Michael Collins, Jeffrey And Me” is a rant against the money spent in getting to the moon, Anderson’s own disappointment at not going to the moon himself, or some other hidden meaning. Whatever the case, it is one of those humorous and creative tracks which he was so good at creating. “To Cry You A Song” emphasizes imagery over lyrical content that just reaches out and grabs your attention.

Just about every Jethro Tull album contains a track which is all about Ian Anderson’s flute and here it is the song “Teacher.” His expertise continued to improve as time passed, but this track catches him near the top of his game.

If Benefit suffers from anything it is the lack of one big memorable song. It was a collection of good songs which collectively formed a very good album. If you want to explore the music of Jethro Tull, this album is a good place to start before moving on to some of their classic releases.

Stand Up by Jethro Tull

April 29, 2010

Jethro Tull returned with their sophomore album less than a year after their debut and change was in the air.

Guitarist and co-leader Mick Abrahams had left the group due to creative differences with Ian Anderson. He envisioned more of a blues sound and Anderson wanted to take Tull in a different direction. His departure left Anderson firmly in control and he would go on to create one of the more unique sounds in rock history.

Tony Iommi would be a very short time replacement for Abrahams. His short term claim to fame with Jethro Tull was his appearance with the group on The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. His lasting claim to fame came as the guitarist for the legendary Black Sabbath.

His replacement would be Martin Barre who would appear on Stand Up and every other release to date and would become recognized as one of rock’s outstanding guitarists and the perfect foil for Anderson.

The album’s art work is some of the most unique in history and would win several awards at the time. It had a gatefold cover and when you opened the album the members of the band would pop up as stand-up figures. Take that CD lovers. The album was reissued a number of times without this feature so you need to seek out the original release if you want to experience the true Stand Up cover art.

Stand Up finds the group beginning to move in a progressive rock direction as Anderson and Barre settled in to what would become a forty year and counting musical partnership. It may not have the conceptual cohesiveness of many of their later releases but the music comes together to form one of their stronger albums. It would be their commercial break through as it reached number one in England and earned gold status in The United States.

This album contains something for every fan of Jethro Tull. “Nothing Is Easy” and “A New Day Yesterday” begin to fuse rock, jazz, and classical music which would be so important to their future. “Look Into The Sun” is a nice ballad which features one of the first great Martin Barre solos. “Reasons” For Waiting” is a love song with lush orchestration. “Fat Man” would present the type of humor which Jethro Tull would be so good at creating. “For A Thousand Mothers” is rock with a premier flute performance by Anderson. Finally “Bouree” is a superior take on the Bach song.

Stand Up was Jethro Tull’s coming out party. If you are a fan of the group or their style of music, this album should always be with in range of your stereo system.

This Was by Jethro Tull

April 29, 2010

Ian Anderson’s musical career extends back to 1962 when he formed his first group, “The Blades.” By 1967 he had joined with guitarist Mick Abrahams, drummer Clive Bunker, bassist Glenn Cornick, and horn player David Palmer to form Jethro Tull. The most important change for Anderson was his instrument of choice was now the flute and it added a unique aspect to their sound.

Tull originally started out as an English blues band with Abrahams and Anderson as the co-leaders. As such, their 1968 debut album This Was is different from all other albums in their vast catalog.

Abrahams was and is at heart a rock/blues guitarist and much of the music contained on this album was a result of his influence. He vision for the group would clash with Anderson’s and he would depart after only one album. He would go on to form Blodwyn Pig and during the late 1990’s re-formed the original members of Jethro Tull, except for Anderson, and toured under the name This Was. He has recently re-established a musical relationship with Anderson.

This Was finds Jethro Tull not trying to be too ambitious, which would happen with both brilliant and not so brilliant results in the future. The energy and the beginnings of Anderson’s madman persona are present but the band performs within its capabilities.

Abrahams’ direct presence is felt on a number of tracks. “My Sunday Feeling” may have been written by Anderson but it is Abrahams’ bluesy guitar which makes the song work. “Beggar’s Farm” is a nice slow blues/rocker and remained a part of their live show for years. “Cat’s Squirrel” is a traditional blues piece, which early Cream would move in a psychedelic direction. “Move On Alone” is the only non-instrumental song by Jethro Tull not to feature a lead vocal by Anderson as Abrahams does the honors.

The song which would look ahead to Tull’s and Anderson’s future is the six minute version of “Serenade to a Cookoo” by Rahsaan Roland Kirk. It was a jazz piece written for the flute and helps Anderson establishes himself as an instrumentalist of note.

Forty-two years after its initial release This Was remains an interesting listen as it presents one of rock’s classic and enduring groups at the beginning of its legendary career. In addition, the music itself holds up well and makes the album worth a listen or two today.