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.

You Really Got Me 45 by The Kinks

December 27, 2009

The Kinks were formed in 1963 by brothers Ray and Dave Davies. They were quickly signed to a recording contract and became part of The British music invasion of The United States in the mid-sixties.

The Kinks still exist today and have had a long and commercially succesful career but no song had more impact than their first big American hit.

“You Really Got Me” contains one of the best known opening riffs in guitar history and was a first blast of what would become hard rock. Ray Davies may have had the vision but it was Dave who got it just right. Many groups have built upon this riff over he years but The Kinks can always say they were first.

Living With The Past DVD + CD Collector’s Edition by Jethro Tull

August 20, 2009

Jethro Tull has been around almost as long as I’ve been collecting music — and that is a long time. They have issued twenty studio albums since their 1968 debut, This Was, and I’ve stuck with them through thick and thin, playing such classics as Aqualung, Thick As A Brick, Songs From The Wood, and Heavy Horses every so often. They also remain a popular concert attraction over four decades into their career.

Living With The Past: DVD + CD Collectors’ Edition is an enhanced and upgraded version of the 2002 release. While the original release comprised only the DVD, a CD has now been added and, while some of the tracks are the same, there is enough new material to please any Tull fan.

Ian Anderson and Martin Barre remain the foundation of the group. Anderson’s flute playing may be a tad more sedate than in his prime but his skills have improved dramatically over the years. His voice has also aged well and he is still able to sing songs that were written decades ago. Barre is one of the great underappreciated guitarists of the last forty years and he is in fine form here. The 2002 line-up was rounded out by drummer Doane Perry, bassist Jonathan Noyce, and keyboardist Andrew Giddings.

The concert footage was taken from the band’s British and American tours of 2001. Famous songs such as “Locomotive Breath,” “Aqualung,” “Thick As A Brick,” and “Cross Eyed Mary” are presented alongside such obscure gems as “Roots To Branches” and “Jack In The Green.”

Two issues need to be noted concerning the DVD portion of this set. The tracks are taken from different shows so there is not a continuous flow to the concert footage. Also, there are interviews interspersed between the songs, which I find interesting but others may consider off-putting.

There are several interesting bonus tracks, among them a 2001 performance of Ian Anderson performing with Fairport Convention and one from a year earlier with Uriah Heep. The most historic track is a performance of “My Sunday Feeling” by the original 1968 Tull line-up of Anderson, guitarist Mick Abrahams, bass player Glenn Cornick, and drummer Clive Bunker.

The CD begins with 11 cuts taken from their November 2001 performance at the Hammersmith Apollo Theater and, as such, it has more of a true concert feel to it. Other highlights include performances of “A Christmas Song,” “Cheap Day Returns,” and “Mother Goose” from some dressing room tapes in 1989 plus “Dot Com” and “Fat Man” from 1999.

If you already own the DVD portion of this set then you will have to decide if the additional material is worth the price. However, if you do not own the DVD or are a fan of Jethro Tull then this release is essential.

Rock and Roll Circus by The Rolling Stones

February 15, 2009

The liner notes to the Rock And Roll Circus CD by The Rolling Stones read, “an entertainment extravaganza planned and put on by The Rolling Stones in December, 1969.” The original intent for Rock And Roll Circus was to broadcast it on the BBC as a television special. Alas this never materialized. It would be years before the music from Rock And Roll Circus would be released on CD and longer still before the program itself became available on video.

The idea behind Rock And Roll Circus was not bad and the artists involved were top notch. In some ways I prefer the CD over the DVD mainly because while I can still hear the bad parts, at least I don’t have to see them. The bad parts include almost every spoken word, some of the costumes involved, the basic production values and any time Yoko Ono opens her mouth.

Rock And Roll Circus could have been even more interesting or bizarre. Brigitte Bardot and Johnny Cash both turned down invitations to appear. Having them appear on the same stage together may been enough to push the whole affair over the edge. Mick Jagger turned down Jimmy Page and the New Yardbirds because he did not have a tape of their music. Their name change to Led Zeppelin and the music from their first album would have been historic if Mick Jagger had just trusted Jimmy Page.

The brand new group, Jethro Tull, kick off the show with “Song For Jeffrey.” Ian Anderson’s flute has become an accepted part of rock history but this was a new concept in 1968. The vocal is strong and Tull rocks but it is the harmonica playing of Glen Cornic that makes the song worth listening too.

The Who almost steal the show. “A Quick One While He’s Away” finds a pre-Tommy Who just beginning to experiment with the rock opera concept. While the song may meander around a bit, Pete Townshend’s guitar always brings it back home. There are some interesting falsetto vocals by Keith Moon and John Entwhistle. The Who are just about to leave their early raw period behind but have not quite reached the smoother sound that will begin to creep into their music after Tommy.

Taj Mahal can simply sing the blues. “Ain’t That A Lot Of Love” is my favorite track on the album. Jesse Ed Davis lays down his funky guitar licks as the backbone of the song and his guitar bridge in the middle of the song is hard to beat.

The CD release finds Marianne Faithful providing a powerful vocal to “Something Better.” The DVD version shows a burned out, no doubt high Marianne Faithful just getting through the song. Ironically, “Something Better” was the B side of her single release “Sister Morphine” which was a tortured rendition of drug abuse. It was considered to raw for the show. It was alright to be addicted but not to sing about it.

The Dirty Mac consisted of John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, on bass, and Mitch Mitchell, the drummer for Jimi Hendrix. John Lennon gives a competent vocal but is basically just going through the motions. Clapton provides some good guitar work but the song never really jells.

Ivry Gitlis was an excellent classical violinist and the song “Whole Lotta Yoko” starts out promising with Dirty Mac providing a background for some violin jamming. It was quite creative. Then of course Yoko Ono opens her mouth.

The Rolling Stone play a six song set.

“Parachute Woman,” No Expectations” and “Salt Of The Earth” are all taken from Beggar’s Banquet. These three songs were the heart and soul of a great rock album and years later it is nice to see them performed together from that time period. “Parachute Woman” is superior to the studio version. “No Expectations and “Salt Of The Earth” feature Keith Richards acoustic guitar set against Brian Jones slide guitar, playing in what would be his last Rolling Stones live performance.

“Jumping Jack Flash” and “Sympathy For The Devil” are competent but need some filling out here. There would be better renditions of these songs over the years. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” would have made its Rolling Stones debut if this concert had been released at the time. It was a little different from the album version but would build nicely throughout.

Today, Rock And Roll Circus is an interesting period piece and has historical value, especially for fans of The Rolling Stones. In the final analysis I could have done with less circus and more rock & roll.