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Jethro Tull - This Was CD (album) cover

THIS WAS

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.30 | 976 ratings

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mental_hygiene
3 stars This is the first album I'm listening to as part of a Jethro Tull studio album crawl. This Was is their 1968 debut, and as implied by the title, was a very particular moment in time. Right off the bat, hearing Ian Anderson do blues vocals is particularly jarring. It's not bad in any way, but permanently tainted by the fact that pretty much everyone who has listened to This Was has listened to another Tull album. That said, in terms of non-prog debuts of prog bands, this stands as a solid british blues rock album. The musicianship and arrangements are far from boring, and dare I say there are a lot of elements of later Tull that are quite evident on here. I've listened to the original mix, but am writing this review to the definitive Steven Wilson remix.

This Was starts off strong with My Sunday Feeling, a solid introduction to blues Tull. The production of this album is fairly cheap, even for the 60s, but thankfully the remix takes care of the mud in the mix. The flute soloing is nice and tight, and the drums are particularly dynamic for a blues record. It has a jazz flair in how the drums follow the rhythm of the melody. The electric soloing is great, nothing outstanding of the era but groovy and interesting. This is followed by the drumless Some Day the Sun Won't Shine for You. It's an interesting and effective choice that brings out the best of the guitar on this record. The vocals are intimate and well done, and the guitar sounds really good as it comps the blues form with small licks and riffs giving the song a soothing flair. I haven't heard many Ian Anderson harmonica solos, but for an instrument he isn't known for, he does a great job of creating dynamic and interesting lines.

One of the unexpected favorite picks I found on This Was is Beggar's Farm. I think it sonically is the closest to later tull that's on here. This almost sounds like it could've been an aqualung reject, not to shoot this song down but more to elevate the fact that this is actually pretty awesome. The tempo shifts are fairly prog for a blues song. The breakdown towards the end where the guitar gets all chromatic almost sounds like proto-king crimson if just for a moment. I would call this song solidly underrated!

Move On Alone introduces a horn part to the sound. The vocals seem to be delivered by Mick Abrahams instead of Ian Anderson. This sounds very untull, so I would assume that this is Abrahams' song because of how it's orchestrated and arranged. It's a bit of a pop nugget hidden on this record, but it's ultimately really irrelevant to their sound. Serenade to a Cuckoo follows, a Rashaan Roland Kirk cover and apparently one of the first songs Anderson learned on flute. It's another very smooth midtempo jazz blues song, but is at least unique for Anderson's budding virtuosity on flute as well as being a very respectful, interesting, and well executed cover song that doesn't end up being filler.

Dharma For One immediately introduces itself as a hard hitter, the drums being very loud and active and the guitar being caked in overdrive. This one is similar to later Tull yet again in how the arrangements flow and also in how the harmonies sound. It's really interesting to be able to clearly hear which songs were definitely Anderson-penned and which were influenced by Abrahams. The drum solo on this is almost manic at times, a far cry from most blues drum solos of the time. This is followed by the more standard It's Breaking Me Up. The vocals on this track are really well done on Anderson's part. I feel like this song doesn't really do much that's unique, but it's still some cool blues rock. I wouldn't say bad, but fairly complacent and standard. "oh no evil woman" songs come a dime a dozen in blues rock.

Being on of the few solid blues rock bangers on This Was, Cat's Squirrel is another surprising highlight on this record. The guitar solo over the drumroll is a particularly interesting choice that ties in more to later Tull. There's a lot of creative sparks like this hidden throughout the record that I think are really solidly underrated. The remix brings a ton of life into this song especially. A Song For Jeffrey is probably the most iconic song (and lead single) from This Was. The vocals are filtered and delivered with a really strong affect. More of Ian Anderson on harmonica, and now that I think of it, a more interesting blend of blues harmonies and the rock and jazz that would later distinguish the band.

I came into this record thinking it was probably going to be a meh album at best, but there are still plenty of highs and songs that I will in fact listen to in the future. This Was is a relic, and has been since Mick Abrahams left Jethro Tull. It's a proto-prog album with a few uninteresting songs (Move On Alone, It's Breaking Me Up), but a few very solid and underrated tracks within the Tull canon (My Sunday Feeling, A Song for Jeffrey, Cat's Squirrel, Dharma for One). I wouldn't call this essential, but there is definitely something in this for Tull fans as well as general proto-prog fans. One of the more daring and interesting blues rock albums I've heard from the 60s, and that's up against Cream, Traffic... the whole lot.

mental_hygiene | 3/5 |

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