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Jethro Tull - This Was CD (album) cover

THIS WAS

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.32 | 844 ratings

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thief
3 stars London in 1968 lived and breathed blues rock - John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Fleetwood Mac, The Yardbirds, all these groups were hip and Clapton was god. The biggest group in the pack, Cream, had already released two powerful albums and greatly influenced upcoming bands, paving the way for loud, guns blazing guitar music with extended solos and blues roots. So if you wanted to get recognition, you had to follow.

At least that's how Ian Anderson remembers the beginnings of Jethro Tull.

The band eanred public's attention at the National Jazz and Blues Festival in August 1968 and the album quickly followed. Ian felt they needed Mick Abrahams' experience and guitar skills to form a reliable foundation, while Anderson's flute playing (first year with the instrument) gave the group another dimension and let them stand out. This approach proved to be good enough to reach no. 10 on the charts.

"My Sunday Feeling" opens with prominent flute, emphatic vocals and Mick's crunchy guitar chops. I wouldn't necessarily call it a smash hit, but rather a promising band executing well-known formula - a positive, charming effort. "Some Day the Sun Won't Shine for You" seems to be even more Delta-inspired, with very quiet, minimalistic performance of tender guitar and harmonica, plus two guys bemoaning the imminent break-up.

"It's Breaking Me Up", although an original song, sounds just like any other straightforward blues of the era (Canned Heat, Savoy Brown etc.). Not that it's unenjoyable - relaxed atmosphere, quite potent harmonica-guitar duels and groovy drums all have its charm. Same applies to "Serenade of a Cuckoo", jazzy cover of Roland Kirk's classic, beautifully incorporating Ian's skills with the flute. Not the stuff I would be searching for myself, but on a Jethro Tull debut they sound kind of fresh and pleasing, especially that Mick Abrahams does a great job on both. I wouldn't be surprised if his skills surpassed Martin Barre's at the time.

"Move on Alone" and "Round" are too short to make or break the album, but they contribute largely to its appeal - the former with sweet orchestral arrangements and French horn, the latter with feel-good jazzy piano. At times I sense the Cream inspiration on these, but I'm not sure why.

Speaking of Cream, "Cat's Squirrel" was a popular tune back in the day and I'm glad Jethros came forward with their version. It's certainly one of the strongest points of "This Was" - we finally experience fat, distorted humbucker sound, fast tempos and Bunker blasting away. Most of Mick's soloing is apt and interesting, so we never miss Ian's voice on this one. "Dharma for One" is another potent instrumental, but this time the flute - and so-called claghorn - lead the way, right until Clive Bunker takes the rule and surprises with dope drum solo. And yes, this one is listenable!

For some reason I skipped "Beggar's Farm" - maybe the only song co-authored by Anderson & Abrahams, apparently mixing styles of the two. In its core it's a moody blues rock tune about a cheating girl, at first tender and hypnotic, but later building up in a clever way, culminating in a brilliant instrumental bridge between 2:50 and 3:40. I really like this one for showcasing all bandmates at once.

And then we have everyone's favorite song of the year, "A Song for Jeffrey"! That tune is catchier than anything you've heard before, well, at least on "This Was"! Groovy harmonica, badass guitar slides and fuzzy vocals from fuzzy radio work fantastically, and I just adore the break in the middle, so youthful and pleasant. These guys might be something, you know.

The band was clearly searching for its sound at the time, but results were promising. Even though I don't listen to blues rock often, I can tell Jethro Tull's debut was competent and enjoyable, of course if you're willing to expand beyond progressive folk they were known for later. Cool guitar chords, impressive drumming and flute's prominence are all important, but cheerful atmosphere is the most appealing factor in "This Was" formula. I'd say it ranks perfectly in the middle when compared to other debut albums - far from "Led Zeppelin I" grandeur, but also incomparably better than "From Genesis to Revelation". Three stars, well earned.

I advise you to get Remaster version including 1968 singles or "Living in the Past" compilation to fully appreciate early Jethro Tull - "Love Story" and "Christmas Song" are mandatory listens.

thief | 3/5 |

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