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Jethro Tull - Songs from the Wood CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.21 | 1570 ratings

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After seven plus years of signing deals, recording, touring and partying, Ian Anderson decided to settle, and Buckinghamshire became his home. He moved in with his new wife, bought a four centuries old, 500 acre Pophleys Estate, and suddenly found a new source of inspiration - history of British paganism. But there was no malevolent intent behind it, I assure you: the book he read in 1976 made him interested from a cultural and historical, not a spiritual angle. The best way to find out is to actually give "Songs from the Wood" another spin.

Vibes of densely wooded hills and sparsely populated, mystical lands are omnipresent. It's strongly suggested not only by instruments of choice (very prominent acoustic guitars, mandolins, tabors, lutes and whistles), but also stylistic cues, such as frequent use of vocal harmonies ("Songs from the Wood", "Ring Out, Solstice Bells"), clearly Renaissance influenced melodies (especially "Velvet Green", "Pibroch", "Hunting Girl") and David Palmer's input - for the first time as a full member. David took care of portative pipe organs and synthesizers - but I've also seen him singing and playing saxophone on tour! Truly a gifted musician and enhancement of Jethro Tull's already rich sound.

So there is much complexity in this updated formula. I deem the opening track a bona fide progressive rock piece, just have a look and see how much is going on here. Numerous ingredients: sparkling chords, clapping hands, flutes and synths, powerful bass, and it all sounds coherent and logical. The instrumental bridge takes much room, but I think the band truly shines there, especially near the end. Another example, they're so confident in "Pibroch (Cap in Hand)" intro - with Martin's Les Paul wailing and dripping molasses, all those delays and echo effects on flute, creative Barlow's drumming. Jethro Tull were BOLD and pretty much all ideas turned out fine on the record. "Pibroch" goes 'full-minstrel mode' three minutes in, and then again - the part I call 'whistles utopia'. Both instrumentals are terrific, back-to-back touchdowns! Similar stuff happens right in the middle of "Cup of Wonder". The song begins with beautiful blend of rock and folk sensibilities, full of vigor and juicy vocals... and then, two minutes in, we're treated with that hectic, or rather BALLISTIC part of interlocking licks and claps. I'll just say, "Cup of Wonder" is the most fitting title; another gem (emerald?).

Second keyword to this puzzle: enthusiasm. I haven't heard Jethro this excited since "Thick as a Brick" days. You can hear it in shorter songs very well. Despite following simpler patterns, they are nonetheless engaging and full of detail ("Jack-in-the-Green"). "Fire at Midnight" runs for only two minutes, however the band managed to make them count - the unexpected bridge left a good mark. Perhaps my favorite short song here is "The Whistler". The enthusiasm is contagious and all ingredients mesh seamlessly, in spite of high tempos and uncomfortable chord progressions.

Speaking of technical subtleties, I've never heard Ian playing acoustic guitar with such agility. Altering strumming patterns, frequent chord changes, erupting dynamics, lovely arpeggios - this album has it all really. One of Ian's prime moments is the first interlude in "Velvet Green", the one he sings 'Won't you have my company, yes, take it in your hands'. The brightness and swag of guitar tone always make me jealous! I must say that "Velvet Green" in general is superb, marvellous piece of music, and I don't mind those renaissance melodies at all. On the contrary: Jethro Tull isn't recreating the old music note-for-note, but tastefully blends it with progressive rock and, well, folk.

Because folk, if you haven't figured it out already, is the strongest undercurrent on "Songs from the Wood". But not the folk of New York's bars or Appalachian slopes - it's much more primordial, joyful, festive in nature. Its complexity is a symbol, for me, a testament to all nature in its various forms. The trees, flowers, all ravines and brooks, each and every animal under the sun, men included.

I haven't said much about "Hunting Girl" and "Ring Out, Solstice Bells" yet, but I find it hard to heap so much praise in one hour. Certainly they're both worth your attention and belong in upper echelon of Jethro Tull songs. I just wanted to mention that the latter would be a great addition to your Christmas collection, it's so cheerful, good-spirited and bucolic.

Honestly, most of the songs are. There is just a huge, HUGE number of delicious moments on "Songs from the Wood"; it may take many listens to get them all. I find it one of my "go-to" Jethro Tull records, perhaps revisited more often (more eagerly?) than any other album. I'm definitely aware of small shortcomings - "Pibroch" being a tad too long, synthesizers & electric guitars too distracting at times - but they mean nothing in the Grand Scheme of Things. "Songs from the Wood" is the mightiest of Jethro Tull "comebacks", a perfect response to classic rock implosion of late 1970s.

And I'm very proud to have it as my first maximum rating album on Progarchives. Well deserved, you vicious scoundrels!

thief | 5/5 |


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