Sunday, 31 January 2021

King Crimson

In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969)

21st Century Schizoid Man/I Talk To The Wind/Epitaph/Moonchild/The Court Of The Crimson King

This 1969 offering, with its grotesque, instantly recognisable cover, was King Crimson’s first album and has long been considered to be one of the first trail blazers of the progressive rock genre. It has only five tracks and they are all lengthy but, as with quite a few of the early prog rock outings, it sounds a lot more “rock” in its sound than prog. It is just extended rock, building on the psychedelia of the previous two years. For me, it is more post-psychedelic, experimental rock than progressive rock. Maybe the former sub-genre eventually morphed into the bigger beast, though.  

The songs

21st Century Schizoid Man is a delightfully heavy thrash, with powerful guitar passages, insane scratchy vocals, big rumbling bass, industrial strength drums and some punchy, madcap brass too. Although it is lengthy and experimental, it sounds more heavy to my ears than it does prog. It is by far the album’s chunkiest cut and easily my favourite.

I Talk To The Wind slows the whole thing down considerably on an ethereal, gentle number, full of “chilled out” ambience. It has some nice bass sounds in it, some appealing flute along with some subtly attractive drum and cymbal work. It has a subtle appeal to it and a lovely, warm sound quality as well. Actually, I’ll instantly change my choice of favourite and go for this one. I’d forgotten that Greg Lake was in the group at this time and this bears many similarities to the best tracks on later ELP albums (I prefer Lake’s stuff to Emerson’s). 

Epitaph is a bit more robust, but also has a slow, grinding tempo.   I can really make a case for this one too. I am sure the passage around five minutes in will have influenced early Roxy Music - the bass lines, the drums - just something about it that reminds me of the middle section of If There Is Something. Anyway, this was rock music going as big and drawn-out as it had done thus far (although we still had the twenty minute tracks of Yes and ELP to come).

The ghostly Moonchild is also very ambient and sonically low-key and has lots of proggy lyrical conceits. It is almost sleepy at times with a sort of jazzy vibe to it. Despite some good parts at the beginning, it is all a little bit to experimental from the mid-point on for my liking, its innovative sounds going on and on, without much to captivate. It just doesn’t make for riveting listening as far as I am concerned. This was prog rock’s problem - far too much noodling and indulgence. Yes, it intrigues me, but it doesn’t grab me by the balls. Bizarrely, though, it grows on me, so there you go,

Not before time, the grandiose The Court Of The Crimson King sees the return of solid, punchy, heavy drums (check them out right at the end, after the Beatles-esque pipe organ bit), although its classically-influenced orchestration is a bit overbearing, as too are its somewhat pretentious lyrics about black queens and jugglers. As is my experience with a lot of prog rock, I find myself liking various bits of it but overall it still remains a little indigestible in places too. As I am someone who has never been into prog, this is not really surprising. The album is not without its merits, however, and it definitely pulled up trees. There had really not been anything like it before. 

In considering prog rock as a genre, I much prefer this to ELP and Yes but Jethro Tull, Focus, Wishbone Ash and Atomic Rooster are a bit more to my taste.

Related posts :-
Gentle Giant
Curved Air

Friday, 29 January 2021

Jethro Tull

This Was (1968)

My Sunday Feeling/Some Day The Sun Won’t Shine For You/Beggars’ Farm/Move On Alone/Serenade To A Cuckoo/Dharma For One/It’s Breaking  Me Up/Cat’s Squirrel/A Song For Jeffrey/Round

This was (indeed) Jethro Tull’s debut album, from 1968, and it was a fine rock-blues album free of much, if any, “progressive” characteristics. For me, that can only be a good thing. A bit like the debut albums from Yes, The Grateful Dead and Ten Years After, it is nothing like the group’s later material. This is largely due to the blues-jazz influence of guitarist Mick Abrahams, who later went on to be a member of Blodwyn Pig, I believe. There are not many vocal duties for Ian Anderson on this album, which I do not mind, as his voice always slightly irritated me. He was better off just playing the flute. Having said that, many consider him one of rock's great vocalists, so what do I know...

The songs

My Sunday Feeling is an absolutely delicious, deep thumper of a rock track. No prog here - just guitar (and flute, of course), drums and bass driving it along in great fashion. It delivers a huge power. I love it. 

Some Day The Sun Won’t Shine For You is pure blues, complete with harmonica and a Beggars’ Banquet vibe to it. Talking of beggars, Beggars’ Farm is also beautifully bluesy in its slightly psychedelic swirl. It is another one that I really like.

Move On Alone is a sleepy, Ronnie Lane-esque piece of folky rock while Serenade To A Cuckoo is a six minute-plus jazzy, flute and drum backed instrumental. Flautist Ian Anderson is on top form on this one, showcasing the virtuosity that would become his trademark. The groovy guitar break in the middle could almost be The Style Council.

Dharma For One is also an instrumental, but this time it was a full on lively rock number, Full of pounding drums (including a fine solo, parping saxophone and fluttering flute breaks. Again, I really like it. Oh, and there is a delicious bass solo too.

It’s Breaking Me Up is pure, copper-bottomed blues rock beauty. It chugs along in typical bluesy fashion as if Free or Led Zeppelin had wandered into the studio. You wouldn’t think this was Jethro Tull in a million years. This was what was great about a lot of music in 1968, everybody had the blues. The blues vibe continues on the frantic, guitar-driven Cat’s Squirrel. This was another instrumental and it truly rocks from beginning to end. The drum sound puts me in mind of that which was used for Golden Earring on Radar Love some five years later.

Song For Jeffrey has a fabulous rhythm to it and brings to mind the sound that the group would soon use on their hit single Living In The Past. Harmonica, flute and drums all merge perfectly. The album ends with another instrumental in the jazzy, keyboard and flute sounds of the short Round. A similar sound is conjured up on the jazzy groove of the non-album track, One For John Gee. A folky and Eastern influence can be detected on another bonus track, the rocking Love Story. Check out that buzzy guitar. 

Overall, this was a really impressive debut and, although it was. Apparently recorded on a really low budget, the sound is truly excellent.

Stand Up (1969)

A New Day Yesterday/Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square/Boureé/Back To The Family/Look Into The Sun/Nothing Is Easy/Fat Man/We Used To Know/Reasons For Waiting/For A Thousand Mothers

Despite the departure of guitarist-vocalist Mick Abrahams due to that old chestnut, musical differences, this second Jethro Tull album, from 1969, still carried some bluesy influences although Ian Anderson's folky proclivities were surfacing rapidly, but not, as yet, the dreaded prog rock symptoms. It was released in an intriguing time - pre prog but post blues boom and psychedelia thus making for a nice mix of styles. It is a fine folk-blues-rock album, make no mistake. The latest Steven Wilson remix of it is outstanding too. 

The songs

The Cream-esque A New Day Yesterday definitely retains the old bluesy power from the first album, with a bit more of a Zeppelin-esque touch of heavy rock about it. The more laid-back Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square shows the new folky influences that Ian Anderson was introducing while Boureé is a pleasing flute, bass and drums-backed instrumental. I really like these Tull instrumentals that were regular inclusions on their early albums.

Back To The Family is a stonking flute and searing electric guitar mid-pace rocker while Look Into The Sun is what people would come to recognise more as Jethro Tull - folky, evocative and with Anderson on vocals. The same can be said of the excellent and very 1969 sound of Nothing Is Easy, another track that really pushes my buttons. The jaunty, folky Fat Man and the solid flutey rock of We Used To Know are both impressive too, particularly the guitar solo on the latter.

Reasons For Waiting is classic acoustic and flute early Jethro Tull. For A Thousand Mothers also displays the same characteristics as indeed does the excellent non-album single, and the group's only big hit, Living In The Past. Both of them have that flute-rock sound that the Tull made their own. No-one else did it or even attempted it. In that respect the band were quite unique. Once more, I find that this is a surprisingly impressive, enjoyable and innovative album. It is not too proggy so that suits my tastes. It is a nice piece of late sixties rock - loose, fluid and musically interesting. You know, I have to say that I have really enjoyed properly checking out albums like this - I only really knew Living In The Past. Where have I been all these years, eh?

Incidentally, Ian Anderson said of it:-

"...I suppose if you were to really twist my arm, I would probably go back to 1969, with the Stand Up album, because that was my first album of first really original music. It has a special place in my heart..."

** The non-album track, Driving Song, is a fine bluesy chugger, full of killer guitar and throbbing, deep bass. Love it. 

Benefit (1970)

With You There To Help Me/Nothing To Say/Alive And Well And Living In/Son/For MIchael Collins, Jeffery And Me/To Cry You A Song/A Time For Everything/Inside/Play In Time/Sossity: You're A Woman

Ian Anderson said that this, Jethro Tull's third album, from 1970, was a "guitar riff album". He was no doubt taking influence from contemporaries like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Cream and Jimi Hendrix and the album is once again more rock than it is prog, and as you know that always gets the thumbs-up from me. It many ways, though, it is a transitional album between blues rock Tull and pro rock Tull. 

The songs

With You There To Help Me is a solid acoustic and elecric, chunky mid-pace rock number. While there is a bit of a proggy ethereality to it in places, it is still a powerful rock track, for me. Ian Anderson's flute gets free rein near the end. Nothing To Say ploughs the same muscular, reliable rock furrow as its predecessor. 

Alive and Well And Living In has the first vaguely proggy hints in it but it also has some infectious flute and cymbal work along with some nice, buzzy guitar. Son returns us to serious riffage on a track that could almost be Black Sabbath. Anderson's vocal is suitably leery. The last part of it is decidedly Beatles-esque, or should I say Lennon-esque.

For Michael Collins, Jeffrey And Me is a nice bit of folky rock. Jeffrey gets his third mention on consecutive albums - Jeffrey Hammond, Anderson's friend, then joined the band on bass and the songs stopped mentioning him. 

The Zeppelin-esque To Cry You A Song is very early seventies in its fuzzy rock, guitar-driven crazy, swirling sound and the drumming is very typical of its time. The guitar work on this is outstanding. Check out those keyboards too. A Time For Everything is a lower-key, more gently melodic song, although it still rocks, featuring more fine flute bursts.

Inside is a brooding, insistent folky number that carries a real atmosphere with it and is one of my favourites from the album. The drum sound on it is great too. Play In Time is classic early seventies heavy rock that chugs along in muscular, industrial fashion, organ to the fore, Deep Purple-style. The strangely-titled Sossity: You're A Woman is a sombre, folky, acoustic guitar-driven slow number to end this string album on a low-key note. It gets captivatingly rhythmic half way through, however.

** The non-album tracks are also good ones - the frivolous fun of Singing All Day; the big production of 17, with its superb final part and guitar work; the steady rock of Teacher and the brass-backed Sweet Dream.   

Now came the prog stuff....although the next album could still rock some.

Aqualung/Cross-Eyed Mary/Cheap Day Return/Mother Goose/Wond'ring Aloud/Up To Me/My God/Hymn 43/Slipstream/Locomotive Breath/Wind-Up

As albums labelled as “prog rock” go, this is one of the better ones. It has a pleasingly resonant rock feel to it and a nice lack of quasi-classical keyboard indulgence. It is more of a rock-folk album, for me. It has surprised me in my genuine liking for it.

My lasting memory of this album, from 1971, is that, while attending "house assembly" at my boys' grammar school, one of the older boys (one Chris Best - a geeky, long-haired boy - if I remember rightly) had managed to persuade the Housemaster, Mr. Glover, a grandfatherly old war veteran, to let him play the first track, Aqualung, to us all. Best said that it should make us focus our minds on the problem of the old and homeless, as that was what the song was about. I can still see poor old Glover's stony but bemused face as singer Ian Anderson ranted on at the song's subject - "you poor old sod". Now, Glover was actually a most kindly man, so he wasn't angry, he was just nonplussed by it all. So was I. Why couldn't they have played us some T. Rex.

The songs

Anyway, as I said, the album was written as a sort of vague concept on homelessness, religion, neglect and poverty. Anderson's wife had taken some photos of homeless people in London and this had inspired him. It is a bit of a rambling affair, but it is sort of ok in places and, although proggy in style it has some robust acoustically-backed rock parts, as well as showcasing Anderson's trademark flute. This is particularly apparent on one of the album's most impressive tracks, the religion critique and historically-influenced My God.

The afore-mentioned title track, Aqualung, is somewhat lacking in cohesion, for me, although its stronger rock parts are thumpingly excellent. Its hard-hitting lyrics make it somewhat different from your average fantasy-inspired prog song. The mid-song guitar and drum interplay is great.

Cross-Eyed Mary features some nice bass-flute-drum interplay, a briefly impressive guitar solo and is far more of a rock song than a prog one, so it gains favour from me in that respect. It has a real power to it, although Anderson's voice is one that I have always found a bit hammy. The track is still one of my favourites, though.

A lot of the album is based around acoustic, pastoral-sounding guitar, and this is the case on the gentle folkiness of Cheap Day Return, which sounds a lot like early David Bowie to me. Another one I like is the folky acoustic vibe of of Mother Goose. As the song progresses it gets more rock-ish and muscular. It has hints of Bob Dylan's It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding in its vocal structure. 

Wond'ring Aloud returns to the melodic , acoustic sound, this time with some evocative strings added. Up To Me is a solid piece of strong acoustic rock, enhanced by some excellent electric guitar. Hymn 43 has some top class industrial riffage while Slipstream is a short interlude before it sounds like Billy Joel has come into the studio as the piano rings out on Locomotive Breath - just check out those mighty power chords too, my speakers are shaking. Wonderful. Again, I am pleasantly surprised at just how much I am loving this. Anderson’s flute kicks ass too.

The excellent album ends with Anderson recalling his schooldays on the equally riffy Wind-Up, showing that the album is not quite as acoustic as it has often been described as. There was some delightfully chunky stuff on here. Good one.

Thick As A Brick (1972)

Thick As A Brick Part One/Thick As A Brick Part Two

Apparently, with several prog rock bands going big on "concept" albums featuring lengthy, side-long behemoths instead of tracks, Ian Anderson - once a folky blues rocker, now considered a proggy - decided that "if they wanted a concept album, then that was what they would get". He duly, with his trusty band, released this two track monster of a prog rock cornerstone. What was quite unique about this was that, although there was Yes and ELP's side-long compositions, there really wasn't much else around like this, not at all. Compare this with say, David Bowie or T. Rex's three minute songs of the time and you have something utterly different.

You would have thought that it would be the last thing that an old punk-new waver like me would want to listen to, but, guess what - I bloody well love it! I have really surprised myself with that but it is most certainly true. The whole thing is a masterpiece of musical sequences now released in superb, remixed format (by remixer par excellence Steven Wilson) which boasts a simply sensational sound. 

I won’t bore you all by analysing every last little bit of the album, so I will just overview it. In true prog style you get short passages that merge into each other but are often markedly different, although they all merge together perfectly with a beautiful cohesion. What you don’t get is proggy Keith Emerson-style keyboards but instead we are treated to a wealth of Anderson flute, riffy rock guitar, lovely deep bass lines, folky acoustic guitar, folky vocals and suitably incomprehensible lyrics. Although there are obvious prog characteristics in the album’s conception, for me it is a creation that veers towards English folk rock, very much betraying Anderson’s taste. It was no surprise that a few years later the band would release a full-on folk album. In the meantime, I seriously love this and am happily surprised to be admitting it.

Part One is better than Part Two, though.

A Passion Play (1973)

A Passion Play Part One/A Passion Play Part Two

After their slightly tongue-in-cheek, but highly enjoyable venture into prog rock conceptry on 1972's Thick As A Brick, Jethro Tull attempted to repeat the experiment the following year, without quite the same level of success. It has suffered critically, in comparison to its predecessor, probably correctly, but it is certainly not all bad. Not at all.

It is an enjoyable mix of atmospheric English folk and classical influences merged with a muscular rock foundation. As on the previous album, the sound quality and musicianship is excellent. 

I know what people mean, though, it does not have the appeal of Thick As A Brick but still has its moments. As with TAAB too, I find it difficult to analyse each separate part of the album, other than to say that it has a nice cohesion to its disparate parts and should not be dismissed out of hand. That, said, the far too lengthy, hammy spoken bit entitled The Story Of The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles is irritating and pretty pointlessly indulgent. It is probably from here that criticism of the album was inspired. When proper music kicks back in, though, on The Foot Of Our Stairs, all is forgiven. Still, I guess by the second half of the second part of the album the whole idea had started to tire a bit, particularly in comparison to the previous album. The time was probably right for a change. 

Overall, the album's sound has a progginess to it, but there is also a brooding, essential folkiness there that I really like. The guitar sound is very Steeleye Span and there is a certain beguiling, dark intrigue to its ambience that makes several listens advisable. It was actually quite a brave creation and again, I find myself really liking it, as with the previous one, though, more on part one than part two. It is strange, however, to think that in 1973 when this came out, it was the year of Aladdin Sane, Roxy Music's Stranded, Mott The Hoople's Mott and Stevie wonder's Innervisions, yet there was also oddball stuff like this around, to which I paid no attention.

War Child (1974)

War Child/Queen And Country/Ladies/Back-Door Angels/Sealion/Skating Away (On The Thin Ice Of The New Day)/Bungle In The Jungle/Only Solitaire/The Third Hoorah/Two Fingers

After two innovative proggy concept albums, Jethro Tull returned nearly eighteen months after the controversial and indulgent A Passion Play with this comparative return to a more traditional rock song format. Many would say not before time, either. The production leant heavily on strings, rather like The Electric Light Orchestra, too.

This was an odd time for one-time prog rock darlings, 1974, the initial fascination with prog had gone and punk was still a few years away. Avant-garde art rock groups like Roxy Music and Cockney Rebel were becoming popular , along with the afore-mentioned ELO so Ian Anderson touched on this with this album, although it didn't become as popular as those artists' work. Tull were becoming old hat, fast, despite their loyal army of long-time fans.

The songs

War Child reminds me lot of Roxy Music from the same period, both on the Ferry-esque vocals and the off the wall saxophone. Queen And Country is a solid piece of mid-pace rock, backed by a madcap electric violin sound, almost a bit Cockney Rebel-ish. 

Some more of that Roxy-style saxophone can be found on the slow but handclap-enhanced and vaguely glammy weird genre-defying strains of Ladies. Back-Door Angels returns to a more conventional Tull-rock style featuring some sold heavy riffing and powerful drums. It's a good one. Sealion also rocks in strong fashion, accompanied by some folky violin.

Skating Away (On The Thin Ice Of The New Day) is a delightful acoustic and subtle accordion-backed number that remains a most underrated track. I love the bass-flute-accordion and drum interplay around three minutes in. If Steve Harley had done this in 1974 I would have loved it, so why not this? That's not the way musical trends go, though, is it?

Bungle In The Jungle has a wild, staccato almost post punk dark riffy rock sound to it together with a feel of Black Sabbath. It is another one that was sort of impossible to pigeonhole. It benefits from a catchy chorus and some fine string backing. Only Solitaire is a short acoustic, folky interlude before we get the martial drums and flute rock of the most enjoyable The Third Hoorah, which has a Steeleye Span-esque folky vibe to it, particularly in the lengthy intro. Two Fingers also has a Steeleye sound to it, and it rocks marvellously along - sort of Steeleye meeting ELO, The Strawbs and Cockney Rebel. I really like it. The saxophone is very early Roxy Music, once again. 

** A fine non-album track is the Elton John-ish Paradise Steakhouse and the heavy rock of Saturation is good too. 

It is a culturally odd album, seemingly not really fitting in with the zeitgeist of 1974, or did it? In many ways it is right in there with those other artists I have mentioned.

Minstrel In The Gallery (1975)

Minstrel In The Gallery/Cold Wind To Valhalla/Black Satin Dancer/Requiem/One White Duck/Baker St. Muse/Grace

The orchestrated strings used in 1974's War Child had gone on this critically-praised offering, replaced by acoustic guitars and a string quartet, merged with chunky heavy guitars, harking back to the band's 1979-71 sound. There is some fantastic rock to be found on this album but, as with most of Tull's post-1971 output, it stands alone, culturally, not really like any of its contemporaries. Whatever, once again, I find myself really liking it. 

The songs

Minstrel In the Gallery begins in slow acoustic guitar and vocal fashion, before breaking out into some superbly heavy riffage. The guitar and drums interplay at four minutes in is excellent, augmented perfectly by Ian Anderson's trademark flute. This is a fine example of strong Jethro Tull rock, showcasing their very uniqueness. 

Cold Wind To Valhalla is delivered in a beautifully folky fashion - acoustic guitar and flute combining perfectly. Anderson's vocal has tinges of early Elton John about it in a couple of places. As with the previous track, the song breaks out into powerful rock half way through, again, most impressively. For me, there is also something of Elton-Taupin about the slow dignity of Black Satin Dancer. The string quartet are used to their best on this and Anderson's vocal is evocative and moving. The track involves several changes of pace and tempo but more in a rock way than a prog way, if you get what I mean. It is all about guitars, as opposed to keyboards.

Requiem is a beautiful, solemn acoustic guitar, bass, subtle strings and vocal song that shows Tull's ability to be reflective and tender. One White Duck continues the acoustic-driven contemplative mood. It is vaguely Dylanesque. 

Then we get the album's only concession to the old prog days with the suite of several short songs that is Baker St. Muse. The first part is engagingly melodious rock and thereafter we continue in a largely rocky vein, the suite is Tull's best extended composition since Part One of Thick as A Brick, for me. 

Beneath the album's rock veneer, there were folky influences coming to the surface once more, something that would continue.

A good review of this album can be found on Mark Barry's site :-

Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young To Die! (1976)

Quizz Kid/Crazed Institution/Salamander/Taxi Grab/From A Dead Beat To An Old Greaser/Bad-Eyed And Loveless/Big Dipper/Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young To Die!/Pied Piper/The Chequered Flag (Dead Or Alive)/A Small Cigar/Strip Cartoon

As punk was the brash music style on everyone's mind in 1976, Jethro Tull, perversely, put out an album of songs intended to form a musical. Oh dear. It was a completely incongruous release and has remained largely ignored. At the time it was panned as being completely culturally irrelevant, correctly so. That doesn't mean it should be dismissed out of hand, however. 

Listened to in isolation, ignoring cultural aspects, it is not actually too bad. Put aside also the album's muddied, incoherent "concept" (about an ageing rock star) and take it for what it is - twelve shortish, concise and snappy rock songs. Just because it wasn't punk didn't mean that it automatically had to be shit - that was one of the unfortunate critical byproducts of the zeitgeist of 1976-78. 

The songs

Quizz Kid is an enjoyable, Who-like acoustic-electric and upbeat rock number. Crazed Institution is also a solid, enjoyable mid-pace rocker.

Salamander is a delightful acoustic number with Dylanesque vibes all over it. Taxi Grab is a chunky, muscular grinder of a track with bluesy tones here and there. Martin Barre's guitar is superb on this. Proper rock. Yes, I loved punk, but what the hell, I love this too. This has stayed the test of time better too. If. had to choose this track or something from Penetration, The Vibrators or The Ruts, I'd choose this every day, so there you go, I'm a sell-out old rocker. 

From A Dead Beat To An Old Greaser is a quiet, sombre acoustic narrative. Again, there is something very Who-esque about this and indeed the album's whole rock-opera concept. Bad-Eyed And Loveless is an acoustic, bluesy lament too. Big Dipper returns to chunky, cowbell-driven riffy rock. 

The title track, Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young To Die!, is sadly anthemic while Pied Piper sees the trusty old flute used the most on the album. The Chequered Flag (Dead Or Alive) is mournfully grandiose and A Small Cigar is a bit too 1930s teutonic-Brechtian in its semi-spoken narrative for my taste. The album has started to tail off a little in its second half although the jaunty, acoustic rock of Strip Cartoon ends it on a positive note.

Of course, this album just sounded out of place in 1976-1977 but it in 2021, it sounds fine and was a quite different Jethro Tull album - not blues, not lengthy prog, not folk. The cover was awful, however, wasn't it?

Songs From The Wood (1977)

Songs From The Wood/Jack-In-The-Green/Cup Of Wonder/Hunting Girl/Ring Out, Solstice Bells/Velvet Green/The Whistler/Pibroch (Cap In Hand)/Fire At Midnight

Jethro Tull changed their style quite a few times during the seventies and, at the height of punk, they released this lovely album of authentic English folk-rock, to considerable success. Ian Anderson is pictured on the cover as a woodsman tending his fire and the whole album is bucolic in ambience, dominated by Anderson's rustic flute. I love it. That is not surprising as I love traditional British folk rock. 

The songs

Songs From The Wood begins with Steeleye Span-Fairport Convention a capella rural English vocal introduction before it bursts out into a thumping piece of flute and drums-powered piece of vibrant folk rock. Forget their mid-seventies lengthy prog rock excursions for a minute, in many ways, this is exactly what I feel Jethro Tull should be. Check out Ian Anderson's superb flautism (is that a word?) on this. 

More archetypal Tull can be heard on the acoustic-bass-flute melody of Jack-In-The-Green and Cup Of Wonder is more full on rock but still retaining its folky feel. The piano-driven bit is excellent then we get another outstanding flute solo, backed by poppy handclaps and Anderson sounding positively rejuvenated. Great stuff. 

Hunting Girl is another serving of flute, drums, keyboards and wonderful riffs rock with a great, lengthy introduction and another solid vocal. This material really is irrepressible. Get a load of those riffs and flute breaks. Classic Jethro Tull.

Ring Out, Solstice Bells is played every Christmas in our house and has been well-loved for years, so I find it nigh on impossible to play it at any other time of year, so I won't. Needless to say, though, the song is quirkily magnificent.

Velvet Green sounds positively Elizabethan with its flute and guitar melody, mid-song dancey bit and indeed the vocals and lyrics too. Henry VIII would have loved this. The Whistler is in the same vein, but less jaunty and more ethereally mysterious in places, although it has a big chorus. It was made for a flute solo and Anderson duly delivers. 

Pibroch (Cap In Hand) is the album's longes track and the one hark back to previous styles in its proggy changes of pace, but it is still in possession of many folky parts. It goes without saying that the flute is fantastic, doesn't it? Fire At Midnight is a quiet, reflective drum and flute lament to end this most enjoyable on. I can't praise this album highly enough so I will stop before I get boring.

** Old Aces Die Hard is an excellent lengthy non-album track as is the typical Tull of Working John, Working Joe. Beltane is appealingly riffy too.  

Heavy Horses (1978)

...And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps/Acres Wild/No Lullaby/Moths/Journeyman/Rover/One Brown Mouse/Heavy Horses/Weathercock

After the slightly unexpected success of 1977's Songs From The Wood, Jethro Tull released another album, oblivious to contemporary musical trends, that was said to the second in their trio of folky offerings. Personally, I think it is far less folky than its predecessor and is somewhat difficult to define. It is, for sure, Tull's most easy on the ear release, featuring some lovely melodies. It really is most pleasant. 

It was, of course, utterly removed from much of the music that 1978 had to offer but what the hell. Fair play to Ian Anderson for sticking to his gamekeeper's guns and putting it out. 

The songs

...And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps is a beguiling, shuffling, folky and flutey opener, while Acres Wild ups the beat on an appealing piece of vibrant folk. No Lullaby has a vaguely dubby reggae-style echoey staccato beat on the drums and is also another most attractive track, featuring a sumptuous bass line. This was Tull's one slight nod to contemporary musical trends, I guess, with that dubby vibe.

Moths is also extremely melodious while the chugging but attractive Journeyman has that slight reggae feel to it once more and Rover combines a typical Tull flute sound with more tuneful melody that sounds slightly Gaelic to me. One Brown Mouse is one of the most folky cuts and is quite enchanting. Anderson had a liking for mice, it seems, as they crop up in several songs.

The album's centrepiece is the eight minutes plus of Heavy Horses, a touching tribute to those lovable large working horses sung in true folky style. It is a classic of its type, proggy in its changes of pace but still eminently folk rock-ish, as is the endearing closer Weathercock, with its killer guitar and flute parts. 

Look, I can't say too much more about these songs other than they are just very amenable and provide a fine listen. Are they folk? Pop? Soft rock? Who knows, it is an impossble to categorise album but all the more interesting for it. Were Tull an anachronism by now? Yes, for sure, but no matter. Who cares anyway. I certainly don't now. In 1978 this would have meant nothing to me, thankfully my perspectives have changed.

Stormwatch (1979)

North Sea Oil/Orion/Home/Dark Ages/Warm Sporran/Something's On The Move/Old Ghosts/Dun Ringill/Flying Dutchman/Elegy

This will be the last Jethro Tull release that I shall cover and it forms the last of what was said to be their "folk rock trilogy". Personally, I feel it is only Songs From The Wood that stands out as being a real folk rock album, the following two are folk-influenced but often containing heavier rock and sometimes sounding even a bit pop rock-ish. It was also the last Tull album to feature the classic seventies line-up. 

Once again, the album was completely at odds with much contemporary music. It is certainly no 1979 album in its sound but as with all their stuff, it has travelled well, and sounds vibrant and fresh in 2021. 

The songs

North Sea Oil begins with some archetypal Tull fluteing before it kicks into a really pleasing melody. Like the previous album, the songs on here are very catchy in places. Orion is a slow-paced but solid grinder of a rock track, with some heavy guitar and drum sounds, as well as some beguiling quieter passages. 

Home is short but quietly dignified, with Ian Anderson's voice sounding as evocative as it ever has done. It is a really nice track. It must be time for a typically Tull lengthy song by now, though, and we duly get one in the muscular, slow, slightly menacing  rock of Dark Ages. It is fine heavy Tull rock, from beginning to end.

Warm Sporran is delightful bit of Celtic semi-instrumental, featuring some ethereal flute and a lovely, warm bass line. Something's On The Move has a lively, slightly funky edge to its sound - check out that great funky guitar riff and the mid-song solo too. Old Ghosts is an attractive, insistent piece of solid folk rock. 

Dun Ringill sees a return for the acoustic, atmospheric Celtic sound while Flying Dutchman is another longer, varied Tull opus but one with far more folky influences than prog ones. Anderson's flute soars on here. Elegy is a fine instrumental closer featuring some more impressive guitar.

** Worthy of mention are the non-album track Crossword and the Celtic folky strains of Kelpie. There are more folky extras in Broadford Bazaar and the jaunty instrumental King Henry's Madrigal, written by the King himself.

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