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

SONGS FROM THE WOOD

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

4.16 | 950 ratings

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Raff
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Released in 1977 after the disappointing "Too Old to Rock'n'Roll, Too Young to Die", "Songs from the Wood" is widely considered as the first part of the band's 'folk' trilogy, continued with "Heavy Horses" and "Stormwatch". I would go so far as to say that it is the only authentically 'prog-folk' album by Jethro Tull, in spite of their reputation as standard-bearers of the genre. Needless to say, it is not the same brand of weird and wacky prog-folk as practiced by the likes of Comus or Spirogyra, but rather closer to the approach of a band like Steeleye Span (whose album "Below the Salt" was produced by Ian Anderson). "Songs from the Wood" is an enchantingly fresh musical effort in which the two souls of the band, the acoustic and the electric, blend seamlessly - pastoral and at the same time uplifting, avoiding a headlong descent into the dreaded 'hey nonny nonny' clichés of the genre thanks to Martin Barre's razor-sharp guitar licks and Ian Anderson's wryly humorous vocals.

Jethro Tull have always been one of those bands who set great store by strong album openers, and "Songs from the Wood" is no exception. The title-track, in spite of being just under 5 minutes long, gives the impression of lasting much longer, due to the complexity of its structure - a gorgeous a cappella intro followed by some astonishing instrumental prowess, especially on the part of the late John Glascock on bass. The following song, "Jack-in-the-Green", is a charming offering dedicated to one of the many nature spirits of British folk tradition. Whenever I hear it, I feel like I am walking in a beautiful oak or chestnut wood, beneath the fragrant shades of the trees. Personally, I believe a piece of music can be called really successful when it appeals to other senses than just hearing.

As it is the case of most albums, even the best ones, there are a couple of weaker pieces on "Songs from the Wood", though they do not in any way detract from the overall fabric of the record. Among the many highlights, besides well-known Christmas tune "Ring Out Solstice Bells" (which is not a personal favourite of mine, though I would not call it weak), I would mention the electrified, salaciously-themed "Hunting Girl", which could have come straight from the sessions for "Aqualung"; energetic flute-fest "The Whistler"; and the beautiful medieval fantasy of "Velvet Green" (also present in a live version as a bonus track). The album's longest song, "Pibroch (Cap in Hand)", is also the most ambitious and the heaviest, based as it is mostly on Barre's guitar, and distinctly darker in mood than the rest of the disc - perhaps not a complete success, but a very intriguing slice of music nonetheless.

As already noted above, the performances by all the band members are very strong. For a band who has never had a stable lineup, and is essentially run as Ian Anderson's show, Jethro Tull sound extremely tight on this album, even more so than on undisputed masterpieces like "Aqualung" or "Thick as a Brick". Even if Ian's unique vocals dominate the proceedings (there are no wholly instrumental tracks here), the album definitely feels like a group effort, and in my view this is part of its appeal - besides its being one of those ultimately feel-good discs that everyone needs in their collection, especially when needing some respite from the likes of VDGG or Univers Zero.

"Songs from the Wood" is one of those cases when I would find that elusive half-star rating really handy. Indeed, while an undeniably excellent album, I believe it somehow does not reach the iconic status of "Aqualung" or TAAB. Therefore, I will rate it a very, very solid four stars (and half a virtual one, of course), and recommend it to everyone but those who think that great musicianship and beautiful, folk-influenced melodies are tantamount to four-letter words.

Raff | 4/5 |

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