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Jethro Tull - A Little Light Music  CD (album) cover

A LITTLE LIGHT MUSIC

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.64 | 132 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
4 stars (Marty, give 'em a 4.5!)

Remember when I said that Heavy Horses was the last truly essential Tull record? Oh, wait, I might not have said that...oh well, never mind. This is the last truly essential Tull record that I've heard to date. A Little Light Music, the album that nearly bankrupted me.

And the funny thing is, this album didn't necessarily have to work so well. In fact, it could very well have been just your standard live album, but everything seems to be working in Ian's (and, more importantly, MARTIN'S) favor.

We open with a great version of "Someday the Sun Won't Shine for You." Do you like the little opening bit with just Ian on harmonica and Martin on guitar? If you can make it through that, then this album really is for you. The rest of the band comes in, just bass and drums, and then it turns into a lively blues breakdown. This slides flawlessly into an overlong, but clever (not to mention brilliantly played) retooling of "Living in the Past" as an instrumental (look, I know that these were all recorded at different venues, but the flow is always appropriate, sometimes amazingly so).

"Life is a Long Song" ushers in the concept of bizarre, seemingly unrelated introductions to songs. Oh well; it's harmless here. This can't quite compete with the soaring orchestrals of the studio version, but Ian tries hard, with some beautiful flute lines in the middle.

"Under Wraps" is really "#2," and it's still gorgeous. It's instrumental, and the second half is led by a flute which is never overbearing; it takes on a strained quality which fits the song flawlessly. But the number that makes the record is really "Rocks on the Road." It's mostly by the book, with just the instrumental midsection altered so that keyboards can be replaced by bass and flute lines. But the jam at the end is replaced by a fascinating coda; instead of a guitar/flute duel, Martin wanks off for a while, then Ian wanks off for even longer, with some breathtaking, echoey riffage.

"Nursie" is good, with heartbreaking vocals. At first the reprise seems superfluous, but it grows on you. Besides, "Nursie?" Who woulda thunk it? "Too Old to Rock 'n Roll" has an...interesting "lounge jazz" introduction. Not bad, just...interesting. But then Ian comes in with the flute and it's all good. Ian later explains to us just why the intro was so frigged up (and, by the way, this is the best collection of Ian banter I've heard to date). This flows right into "One White Duck," which is given some tasteful keyboards and wisely cut short.

"A New Day Yesterday" is more harmonica driven until the instrumental midsection, where the beat speeds up and slows down, Martin pumps out some scary guitar, and Mr. Flute Crotch steps in with some whacky Irish licks. "John Barleycorn" is the old Traffic number, but it totally destroys the original. At least, in terms of bitch-ass kickery it does. The original was floaty and ethereal, with desperate vocals; this one is harder with spooky, goofy vocals. It's fun!

"Look Into the Sun" is reduced to Martin and Dave showing off their classical abilities; it's cool, but unrecognizable, except on the ends, and then even barely. "Christmas Song" plays just like you'd expect it to, except that it's introduced by maybe the best Ian banter of them all. "From a Deadbeat to an Old Greaser" is handled gently until the instrumental bit. I wonder if the electric was necessary.

"This is Not Love" is played fast, hard and loud. As it should be. And I still contend Dave is a better drumster than Doane. A real surprise is the "Bouree;" it should really be called the "Bach Jam" or something. It starts off normal enough, and then Martin takes over with his classical guitar, and then Ian regains control for a minute, each time playing some different bit of baroque music. Then it all returns to "normal." The definitive ba-rock number.

"Pussy Willow" is another gentle instrumental, with a nice little intro, and some surprsingly solid soloing from Barre at the end (considering the softness of the number). The album closer, a trusty ole overlong "Locomotive Breath" rendition; the intro done totally without keyboards, which gives it a sort of smarmy air. I don't know why. But it's still great. Barre's buzzy chords sound more like a train than ever, and his metallic interplay is fantastic, and the whole thing chugs along until it hits it grinding halt. Fantastic. Cool flute too.

Now, some of the strengths of this record should be obvious. For one thing, it's remarkably eclectic; I can't think of a single period of Tuller history/stylistics that isn't represented on this record: acoustic, blues, hard and art rock are all in place (you have to squeeze the folk period in under "Pussy Willow" and "Christmas Song," but still, there's "John Barleycorn"), and even the electrono period is touched upon. I'm happiest with the heavy met-Tull period myself, since Ian only draws on Catfish Rising. Plus, there's only one number from Aqualung! Huh? That's gotta get some sympathy points.

Also, the lineup is reduced. Meaning no real keyboards to speak of. What keyboarding is done is handled tastefully by Dave Mattacks, as is the drumming. His approach is much subtler than Doane "Bang the Drum Slowly" Perry, sometimes showing some jazzy influences (like on that great "Rocks on the Road" coda, where the emphasis on cymbal tapping occasionally gives way to bursts of syncopated energy).

David Pegg gives us all his usual tricks, but you know what? None of it ticks me off. Not even the poppin' bass sounds. He even redoes the bass bits of "Bouree" to good effect. He had been warned, I reckon...

But my men are still Ian and Martin. Ian plays like he could not play in 78'. All those little flute noises and trills and tremolos and God-knows-what else? Amazing. Ian is one of those rare cases of classic rockers who only gets better over time, rather than settles into a groove (another case being my old "pal" David Gilmour. There. I said something nice about Dave).

And Marty? I sensed something was different on Catfish, but it is here that he proves that he can really play the heavy metal guitar effectively if he wants to. The blues is all fantastic too. And his classical playing? Even more impressive than it ever was. Although occasionally these genres get the better of him; like "Look Into the Sun," where style almost totally conquers substance, or "Nursie" and "Deadbeat," where ballad veers dangerously close to POWER ballad.

Now, non-diehards might want to detract half a point. Some things frustrate even me: like, if this is a live show, how can they play all those two guitars, mandolin bass AND drums? And who's playing that damn tambourine all the time?!? I smell some extra effects or overdubs or something... And, you still have to deal with Ian's new voice. Well, that actually doesn't bother me so much. Since he mostly sticks to some of the more beautiful and balladeering songs, and the occasionally blooz, his tone works fine in a world weary sorta way.

So, it might not seem it at first listen, but give this album time and it can become just as enjoyable as Bursting Out. Of course, Bursting will still always be the quintessential live Tull album (it is a much better representation of a full live Tull show, and the closet to "classic Tull" I've heard to date), but Little Light Music can win you over in other ways. Like, did I mention the Ian banter? To date, it's the best I've heard. To date. Wait, I already said that...

The Whistler | 4/5 |

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