The Jethro Tull Christmas Album by Jethro Tull

June 14, 2010

I remember my initial reaction when I first heard Jethro Tull was releasing a Christmas album: what a terrible idea. The image of Ian Anderson as a mad Santa would not leave my mind. Well, then imagine my surprise when The Jethro Tull Christmas Album was released during September of 2003 and it proved to be their best album in years.

It may not be a traditional Christmas album in the truest sense of the phrase, but in an odd way the music captures the spirit of the season. The tone and texture of the album is actually closer to their Songs From The Wood period rather than their recent hard rock offerings.

The Christmas Jethro Tull consisted of Anderson, lead guitarist Martin Bare, drummer Doane Perry, keyboardist Andrew Giddings, and bassist Jonathan Noyce. There are a group of string players on hand as well to lend a festive air to the project; plus, old friend Dave Pegg makes a holiday appearance on a few tracks.

Anderson re-recorded a number of songs from the group’s past. “A Christmas Song,” the even-better “Another Christmas Song,” “Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow,” “Ring Out Solstice Bells,” and a reworked “Bouree” are all resurrected as tasty holiday fare.

And yet I find the seven instrumentals to be the heart and soul of the album. The best of the lot is “Greensleeved,” which uses the traditional “Greensleeves” as its taking off place and the album closer, “ Winter Snowscape,“ written by Martin Barre, which allows him to grab the spotlight.

“Birthday Card At Christmas” is the opening track, written by Anderson especially for this release, and contains over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek lyrics which he’s been so good at creating. It’s a song about his daughter who is unfortunate enough to have a birthday near Christmas — like myself, I may add. It’s just a lousy time for a birthday as it’s overshadowed by the materialism and parties of the holiday season, and so too is the true meaning of the season according to Mr. Anderson.

The Jethro Tull Christmas Album marked a return to their musical past and as such produced a nice if somewhat unusual holiday release. As the final notes of “A Winter Snowscape” fade away on this, my 21st Jethro Tull review, I say at least for this classic band, “and to all a good night.”

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Rock Island by Jethro Tull

June 7, 2010

1987’s Crest Of A Knave pushed Jethro Tull in a harder rock direction which renewed their popularity. Ian Anderson’s frenetic style and his signature flute virtuosity enabled the group to retain its uniqueness as their sound moved into the modern age.

Rock Island released two years later in 1989, continued their hard rock journey. It did not have the consistent quality of its predecessor but there were enough high points to make it a solid release.

The core of the group remained the same. The ever present Ian Anderson, guitarist Martin Barre, and bass player David Pegg were together for the fifth studio album in a row. Drummer Doane Perry, who had worked with them part time on their last album, was elevated to full time member status. Former member Peter Vettese returned on a part time basis to add keyboards to four tracks.

When Jethro Tull is good they are usually very good. The title track contains some nice flute/guitar interplay and the lyrics are philosophical as they explore the theme of loneliness. “Another Christmas Song,” which re-appeared on their 2003 Christmas Album, is a rare soothing and positive song from the group. I have always liked the music of “Kissing Willie” but the lyrics move in a risqué direction to say the least. “The Whaler’s Dues” tells a poignant tale as it explores the story of a whaling man.

Many of the other songs are average which means nothing particularly bad or good. I tend to prefer the up-tempo “Big Riff and Mando” and “Ears Of Tin” over some of the other material.

Rock Island tends to get lost in the large Jethro Tull catalogue as there are a number of better stops. Still the album remains very listenable and is a good example of Tull’s current sound.

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Crest Of A Knave by Jethro Tull

June 7, 2010

Crest Of A Knave was released during September of 1987, but it was at the Grammy Awards in 1989 where is caused a great deal of controversy. It won the award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal Or Instrumental. The fans of Jane’s Addiction and Metallica, who were nominated for the same award, were more than a little miffed. I have to agree that, while this is an excellent Jethro Tull album, and maybe even Grammy worthy, it was a stretch in this category.

The album cannot really be compared to their classic seventies material as the music is vastly different. The group does move in a hard rock direction and places Martin Barre’s guitar out front, which is always positive, but the music retains its unique flavor through Ian Anderson’s flute playing. It all added up to their best album of the eighties. Their fans agreed as it became their most commercially successful release of the decade as well.

Official membership in the group had dropped to a trio. Bass play Dave Pegg and lead guitarist Martin Barre were still on board. Ian Anderson basically took care of everything else. He wrote all the songs, contributed the lead vocals, and played an array of instruments. Two drummers, Doane Perry and Gerry Conway, are mentioned in the credits, but Anderson used his trusty drum machine for three tracks.

There is a lot of good music here. “Budapest,” at just over ten minutes, does everything right. It begins acoustically and builds from there. It tells one of Ian Anderson’s classic tales and even manages to incorporate a violin into the mix. “Farm On The Freeway” is his rant against urban sprawl but has fine instrumental performances on the breaks. “Jump Start” is Martin Barre doing what he does best. “Steel Monkey” is another fine rocker except for the preprogrammed drums. “She was A Dreamer” is one of those whimsical pieces which Anderson could create seemingly at will. This one concerns a rock star which was appropriate.

Crest Of A Knave may be over looked at times, but it is one of the better albums in the vast Jethro Tull catalogue. It is a well balanced release and in some ways served as a nice comeback. It remains one of the essential modern Jethro Tull releases.

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Under Wraps by Jethro Tull

June 2, 2010

It took Ian Anderson almost two years to issue Under Wraps and unfortunately the wait for Jethro Tull fans was not worth the results. It is one of the weakest and oddest entries in their large catalogue.

He tried to modernize the 80s style. It is filled with electronic wizardry plus a synthesizer sound pushed his signature flute playing into the back ground all too often. There is no drummer; rather Anderson programmed all the drum parts which just do not fit the Tull style. It gets worse. He allowed keyboardist Peter-John Vettese to co-write eight of the eleven tracks issued on the original vinyl release. This took the music in a direction which was very different from all their other releases.

When allowed, the instrumental playing is very good. Ian Anderson’s flute may be muted but every once in awhile it shines. Martin Barre still manages to produce a tasty solo now and then. Bass player David Pegg is the most consistent by virtue of his bass parts being needed for the music’s foundation and he produces admirably.

There is an underlying theme of espionage to the lyrics which is a far cry from the grand stories of A Passion Play and Thick As A Brick.They seem forced and never really form a whole.

The best of the lot are “Under Wraps #1 and #2” which have fewer keyboards and “Heat” which may be different from their classic material but contains a nice guitar solo.

On the down side songs such as “Lap Of Luxury,” “Saboteur,” “Paparazzi,” and “Apogee” are in synch with the eighties but not what one would expect from one of the unique groups in rock history.

Under Wraps did continue Ian Anderson’s penchant for changing the group’s sound. The mistake was the direction and not the effort. In some ways it would be interesting to see this album re-recorded using actual drums and with the synthesizers toned down.

Jethro Tull would move in a more hard rock direction as time passed making Under Wraps an out of place stop for the group. It remains an album only for fans who want everything.

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Broadsword and The Beast by Jethro Tull

June 2, 2010

Beginning in 1968 Jethro Tull had released a studio album every year for thirteen straight years until 1981. Maybe Ian Anderson needed some time off to recover from the loss of four long term members of the group, or possibly needed to re-charge the engines after the less than stellar album A. Whatever the reason for the hiatus it was not until April of 1982 that he and the group returned withThe Broadsword and The Beast.

The group’s supporting cast contained some old and new faces. Group leader Ian Anderson and lead guitarist Martin Barre were still present. Joining them was bassist Dave Pegg, who had played on A, plus new additions Gerry Conway on drums and keyboardist Peter Vettese. Also of note was the fact that Ian Anderson did not produce the album but rather brought in Paul Samwell-Smith.

The music would continue to evolve and maintain an eclectic flavor. Hints from their folk influenced days were still present, but the band began moving in a harder edged direction. The songs themselves were also some of the most structured of their career which belied the different sounds of the music. It all added up to a good if not excellent release.

I find there are three superior tracks. “Fallen On Hard Times” has an almost Scottish folk melody. It features an acoustic base and contains a nice medieval flavor. “Slow Marching Band” is a rare Anderson composition that is a ballad about male/female relationships. It makes for an interesting and excellent track. “Seal Driver” features Martin Barre at his best. You can almost smell the ocean on this rock anthem.

I also find “Broadsword” somewhat amusing, as the lyrics find a man protecting his family and home. I can still envision Conan The Barbarian when listening to this tale.

Not all is good as “Flying Colours,” “Pussy Willow,” and “Watching You, Watching Me” are average 80’s rock.

The Broadsword and The Beast may sound a little dated in places today, but overall it holds up fairly well. It is not one of their better albums but is still very good in places. A nice, if non-essential, stop on Jethro Tull’s musical path of life.

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Catfish Rising by Jethro Tull

May 29, 2010

A new decade had dawned in the nineties, and Jethro Tull celebrated with a new studio album. Catfish Rising turned down the keyboard/synthesizer sound and turned up Martin Barre’s guitar which is always a positive. What resulted was their most rocking album since Rock Island, even though it was understated in places. It even had a bluesy feel at its core. An additional treat was the mandolin playing of Ian Anderson and Barre.

This would be bass player Dave Pegg’s last album with the group and his imaginative playing in the future would be missed. Mainstays Ian Anderson and Martin Barre provided their usual expertise and Doane Perry was now the full time drummer. Keyboardist Andy Giddings contributed to three tracks. He would become an important fixture in their future.

Catfish Rising was not as bad as some critics of the day made it out to be, but rather takes its place as a solid if not spectacular part of the Jethro Tull catalog.

“Thinking Round Corners” and “Doctor To My Disease” are both nice rockers and “Occasional Demons” even invades ZZ Top territory a little. “Like A Tall Thin Girl” and “Gold-Tipped Boots, Black Jacket and Tie” provide a nice counterpoint as they are acoustic based pieces. The longest song, “White Innocence” which is close to eight minutes, reminds me of their classic “Budapest” which for me is a good thing.

Yes, there are a number of average tunes which may be considered filler but none are offensive. Tracks such as “Rocks On The Road,” “This Is Not Love,” and “When Jesus Came To Play” may not be well known Tull songs but they are worth exploring every now and then. My only real complaint is the lyrics are a little more bawdy in places than they need to be, but such is the mind of Ian Anderson.

Catfish Rising may seem a little dated in places but at the time it showed that Jethro Tull was alive and well in the nineties. Today it may not be an album which comes to mind very often, but it still provides a pleasant listen.

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A by Jethro Tull

May 22, 2010

The eighties had dawned and Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull had just issued an excellent trilogy of folk/rock albums. Songs From The Wood, Heavy Horses, and Stormwatch were critically acclaimed and commercially successful.

The new decade signaled change for the group and not all of it good. Ian Anderson decided to release a solo album which went in new musical directions. His label was less than enthused by the prospect and pressured him to release it under the group’s name. Legend has it the master tapes were stored in a box simply lettered with an A which became the title of the album.

Long time bass player John Glascock had passed away and drummer Barriemore Barlow left the group. Members John Evan and David Palmer were basically fired which left only Anderson and guitarist Martin Barre to carry on. A group of new musicians were assembled with the most important addition being Dave Pegg who would become a significant member of the band. He also had the good fortune to be a long time member of Fairport Convention which made him an important part of two of the more unique and excellent bands in British music history.

I can’t remember the last time I listened to this album before giving it a couple of spins for this review. Unfortunately upon listening to it, I now know why it has not left my storage area in decades. It is one of the weakest releases in the vast Tull catalogue. The fact that no track from this release appeared on their 20th anniversary box set probably says it all.

It is very eighties as it contains a lot of synthesizers and keyboards providing the foundation for the music, which is not really what I want to hear from the mind of Ian Anderson.

The only truly interesting track is the instrumental “The Pine Marten’s Jig,” which is out of place as it looks back to their folk sound. “Crossfire” and “Fylingdale Flyer” at least have some interesting rhythms and some well layered vocal harmonies but nothing else rises above the average.

A has been safely tucked away and it is doubtful if it will ever see the light of day again. This one is for only real hard core fans of the group.

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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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