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Jethro Tull - Roots To Branches  CD (album) cover

ROOTS TO BRANCHES

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.63 | 328 ratings

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Queen By-Tor
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Rare and precious album

In the mid 90s hopes weren't too high when a band like Jethro Tull are mentioned. Take nine out of ten 70s prog bands out of their peak decade and they'll fizzle and flop with music attempting to either recapture something they've lost or something they never had. However, after Tull won the 1987 Grammy for best hard rock/metal album (something very confusing to proggers around the world even to this day) expectations might have been a bit higher. However, after the recent flop of their Rock Island album that promise may have rusted a bit.

So what do we have here then? This is Roots To Branches Jethro Tull's 1995 attempt, but how good is it? It's been called Tull's best album outside the 70s, but can it really deliver?

Why, yes! Of course it can! Roots To Branches is an incredible mix of Tull's 70s roots (but don't expect another Thick as a Brick) and their new, heavy approach to the music gained in the 80s. But don't worry, the loud and obnoxious 80s synths aren't present. Something truly refreshing and unique about this album is the style that it's done in. A group of songs ranging from short to mid-long with a nice dose of Anderson fluting mixed with a heavy dose of oriental-inspired melodies and sounds make this album one-of-a-kind (in the Tull cannon, anyways).

The sound and style of the album are put forth immediately on the opening title track, Roots To Branches with the intro having a very eastern twist put on it. Also notable on this effort is that the flute and guitar are brought so far to the front that it's almost unusual. This is of course very nice for those who enjoy those instruments (but if you don't then I don't think the band is for you anyways!). Anderson's almost mechanical repetition of the chorus on this track also really helps to hammer home the song as the guitar comes in for another attack.

A quick note about the vocals on the album. Indeed, Anderson does not sound quite like the Aqualung we know him as. On more recent albums his vocal style has shifted more to something that sounds familiar to Mark Knopler. Never fear though prog heads! Unlike some of the mellowed out songs on efforts like Crest Of A Knave that started to sound a bit too close to Dire Straits for comfort the songs here all manage to keep a heavy tone, Anderson's voice providing a melodic method to the madness.

Moving along and further into the eastern sound is the flute and string driven Rare and Precious Chain with it's strong forged melodies and almost tribal beat that works as a very very good hook. An unfortunately short track, this is one of the greatest standouts on the album. Out Of The Noise is where the album starts to get real nice 'n heavy starting with some frantic flutes and blowing headlong into a full out rocker after about thirty seconds. Slowing only for a minute for Anderson to get out the meat of the chorus mixed with some flute this is a powerful track that shows some true Tull power.

Other songs like This Free Will and Dangerous Veils also do this very well, the string sections and flutes all placed meticulously to give the spine a shuddering experience.

However, it's the longer, more meditated and drawn out tracks that really take the cake here.

Valley is the first to do this on the album. Still a fairly short song (clocking at 6 minutes) this one tells an eerie tale while bringing in some very very folky chords and melodies while having the eastern influence lie underneath. This is one that starts out slow but, like some of its brethren, soon explodes into motion. Nearer the end, At Last, Forever is another more lengthy track (about 8 minutes) which also proves to be meditative in nature for a very pleasant experience. Meanwhile, Another Harry's Bar is likely the slowest and most reflective of the tracks on the album, this one most comparable to Dire Straits with Anderson's vocal style on the track as well as the sombre tone.

But really, the tracks that take the cake are a couple that I have not yet mentioned. Stuck In The August Rain is a beautiful track dominated by Anderson's vocals with some soft music underlying it. A welcome change in pace in such a frantic album. But while that's all well and good it's Wounded, Old and Treacherous which destroys the competition. Opening with some soft flute and eerie soundscapes the flute soon picks up faster and faster until we're delivered to the drums which start their march. The flutes continue to grow in volume as do the drums and whoa! A bass riff comes into the mix. Then it stops for the flute... Then a guitar! Then it's just Anderson with some subdued instrumentalism. Some very entertaining lyrics are delivered and then we hit the chorus and everything comes together again. It's then the song really picks up around halfway through that the song becomes incredible, but that intro is something astounding as well.

Maybe not true classic Tull in all senses, this is still a wonderful album which makes an excellent addition to any progger's collection. And trust me, if you've avoided it thinking that it's like their 80s outputs then you'll be very pleasantly surprised. Probably not the album to start on with Tull since it has a style of it's own, but if you like Tull then this is an album that can't be missed. 4 stars!

Queen By-Tor | 4/5 |

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