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Jethro Tull - Songs From The Wood CD (album) cover

SONGS FROM THE WOOD

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

4.16 | 930 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
2 stars Review twenty-something, Songs From The Wood, Jethro Tull, 1977

StarStar

Gutter rhymes indeed.

A pyrrhic victory for the lads in Jethro Tull. Despite the enormous potential of some of the delightful melodies, only Hunting Girl consistently matches up to the quality I want from Tull, while the title track, Pilbroch, Solstice Bells and Fire At Midnight all have their moments, though highly flawed. The melodies are rather overused, the arrangement sometimes seems a little lacking, and I don't have the lyrical grips to keep my interest in a repeated melody. One big issue on the album as a whole is that the atmosphere is lacking. The bland song structures only exaggerate the repetitive nature of the album, and mean that lame choruses are repeated ad extremum crudelitatis. We see plenty of Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus songs, which is one of the reasons that I've seen people bashing Asia, but apparently being marginally folky makes that not a problem. Overall, a rather disappointing and unfulfilled album, but not a complete disaster.

Ian Anderson, it seems, is a lyrical schizophrenic. On the one hand, you have the classy, clever, scathing, sarcastic, honest Ian Anderson, who can write songs like Back Door Angels, Thick As A Brick and Baker Street Muse. On the other, you have his evil folky twin, who can churl out pretty generic pseudo-intellectual, quasi-Anglo-pagan songs, with most real atmosphere build-up wrecked by repeats. Lyrically, much of this album is a horrible, horrible experience. Verbal waterboarding.

Songs From The Wood kicks off with a nice multi-vocal harmony, with flute, acoustics, a fine bass part and various piano and synths kicking in gradually. Eventually even Martin Barre's allowed to play, and we get a dose of mandolin in the heavier chorus section. This escalates up a little to produce a darker atmosphere, and though the Ian Anderson flute solo feels a little light, I like it up to now. Up to this point, what's not to like?

And suddenly, insert a completely random, almost-verbatim repeat of an earlier verse. Why? Does it add anything to the song? No. Is the context altered enough to make the re-entry clever and interesting? No. Does the flute solo near the end redeem it? Probably not. Essentially, the first part of the song transports me to the atmosphere of a rather English wood, with deciduous trees everywhere, badger burrows everywhere and trying pathetically to call back the dog. The repeat wrecks that atmosphere.

Jack In The Green is simply extended miserable acoustic strumming with accompanying grating vocals, some small Barriemore Barlowe additions (from some marimba to proper drums) that are interesting enough. Everyone else is there in the mix, but noone ever takes the opportunity to break out of it, and any moment risking a dangerous musical explosion is quelled by the rather flaccid flute. The folk lyrics are a complete disaster, with a standard Nature vs. Modernisation idea surrounded by entirely vestigial lines. Now, a vocal-dominated song with strong lyrics and music that highlights these ideas can be amazing. Jack-In-The-Green is that sort of song, only with appalling lyrics and music that doesn't contribute at all, and it's far from amazing.

Cup Of Wonder starts with a delightful, cheerful section with a throbbing bass and flute moving to a dancy drum-beat and some opportunities for Martin Barre to rock out a little. The other verses are essentially small, but neat variations on the first verse. The instrumental section is a little feeble, almost seeming vestigial, but before the return to the last verse we get a rare, effective gentle flute part from Ian Anderson. The issue with this song is the chorus line 'pass the cup of Crimson Wonder-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh' (complete with acoustics and mild accordion). Frankly, one repeat of that at the end of each chorus would have been daring. Two was lunacy. Over three choruses, it's unbearable. Could have been a great song, but wasn't.

Hunting Girl begins with several brief solos, and features an excellent rhythm section throughout, with Barriemore Barlowe contrasting heavier beats and even metallic sheets with a couple of tinselly taps. Barre and Anderson (flute) both get to take a few solos, and make the most of them, creating a rather physical feel appropriate for the song. The lyrics have finally returned to the familiar Tull ground of rollicking innuendo and a whimsical storyline. A very welcome development, as I can sing along to them happily, and nod my head to the rocking theme. The silver amidst the dross. Not gold, but as good as silver gets.

Solstice Bells is an awkward song to review, as I never know whether to compliment the bouncy piano and cheerful feel, or to viciously attack the sheer mindlessness of the idea and over-repeated chorus. I'll do both. The bouncy piano is great, and the cheerful feel is enjoyable. Alas, the idea is at best dubious, the amount of shouting 'ring solstice bells' becomes bland after two verses, especially when I doubt the legitimacy of the idea. Perhaps it's a really good song, but I can only listen to it when my pedantic mind isn't in overdrive.

Following a rather childish opening with the two keyboardists most prominent, Velvet Green develops in a mixed manner. The opening part, complete with a harpsichord-like sound (probably acoustics), is bland in the extreme, with neither glockenspiel nor a rather dim bass part giving any feel to it. It moves (quite abruptly) to a more chord-based song (with some minor scaling-ups from Barre) and the lyrics (despite a very strong vocal performance from Anderson) verge between barely listenable and painful! There are some light reproductions of the guitar on The Pig-Me And The Whore, which doesn't really bother me. The subsequent instrumental section is tedious, and the return to the basic opening part's sound is unwelcome. Another example of some good ideas and some really poor ideas coming together to form a song that tempts the skip button.

The whistler begins with a superb verse, including enjoyable acoustics, glockenspiel and a keyboard. The chorus, highland-ish whistle (no, really?) included, gets old rather quickly, isn't particularly atrocious despite sheer stupidity lyrics ('I whistle along on the seventh day'). The other verses, with some very interesting additions over the basic theme, and some grinding Barre guitar saves the rest of the song from feeling too repetitive. Great ideas, bad ideas, mediocre combination.

Pilbroch, with a manic guitar-flute duo that I refer to as the 'Fen Witch Riff' is the most memorable (though not the best) thing in the song, but it shouldn't be knocked for this. Ian Anderson comes in very neatly 'There's a light in the house... in the wood... in the valley'. The verses are rather a thing of beauty, with a story told through strong folk lyrics and a generally matching atmosphere.

The extended instrumental section indicates a 'romance' implied by the cheerful mandolin with darker additions from David Palmer and John Evans. The 'Fen Witch riff' comes in, presumably to voice the obsession of the protagonist, a cheerful flute-acoustic duet with a rather highlands feel and a clapped-out theme moves on to a more grandiose Evans-Palmer-dominated section. The escalation to the final verse is amazingly well-handled, . The Fen Witch riff comes in again to escalate out the song to its bizarre confusion. All in all, a very interesting song, but the grating and dissonant Fen Witch riff is overused.

Fire At Midnight is an uplifting vocal-led melody, with a romantic theme and some great lines ('Kindled by the dying embers of another working day/Go upstairs, take off your make-up - fold your clothes neatly away). Ian Anderson growls (but not in a metallic way) a little at the end of the lyrics, which isn't too bad. The instrumental section seems almost a convention here, not really adding anything to the table. I'd have preferred something more connected to the verses. The repeat of the second verse feels quite nice here, and overall this is a fairly neat round-off for the album.

I don't have the mental stamina to listen to another version of Velvet Green, and I admit that Beltane is relatively decent, except in that you have Ian Anderson saying come-a Beltane 2,613 times near the end of the song. Usually, I give up at Fire At Midnight, and go and find myself some VDGG to wash out the grassy stain of the album.

All in all, enough merits for a sickly two stars, and I simply do not understand why some make it out as a masterpiece. Not an album you should come to expecting great things, probably not vital, especially if poor lyrics can disappoint you, and it's simply too repetitive for its own good. Still, worth getting, if only for Hunting Girl, and you may (probably will) like it more than I do.

Rating: Two Stars, though it'd be three if all the good ideas were converted into say, four good songs, and four if all the songs reached the potential of their best ideas. Maybe I'm being harsh, given that this is better than the other albums I've given two-star ratings to.

Favourite Track: Hunting Girl

TGM: Orb | 2/5 |

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