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Jethro Tull - This Was CD (album) cover

THIS WAS

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.32 | 564 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Usually you can tell something about an album's contents by its cover. Usually. There are exceptions to that notion and Jethro Tull's debut is one of them. The same drummer friend that turned me and my fellow hoodlums onto Yes and King Crimson in the summer of 1970 when he joined our band also introduced us to Jethro Tull via "This Was." The staged, macabre photograph on the front still kinda freaks me out to this day because it looks so weird and for the fact that it doesn't have anything to do with music at all. Looks like four gnome-ish, backwoods ne'er-do-wells slyly gloating with their canines over the spoils resulting from bagging their pelt limit to me. But despite the strange visuals dear old Tommy Cline insisted that this was a definite "You gotta hear this" record and, after he played a few selected cuts for us, we had to agree. It was most decidedly a different sound and, in those days, that's all the qualifier we needed to fully embrace it. Not only did I and my cohorts instinctively gravitate towards the group's eclectic attitude, we even worked up a few of their tunes to see if we could play them at our gigs and get away with it. They confused and frustrated the prom crowd no end but the partiers at the frat throw-downs didn't give a flip as long as it was loud so we sorta broke even when it came to covering early Jethro Tull material. We were happy and that's all that counted.

The album opens with front man Ian Anderson's "My Sunday Feeling," a strong dose of progressive blues/rock that caught us unawares because we didn't know that anyone was even dabbling in that territory. Ian's breathy flute literally blew in like a gust of fresh ocean air and instantly set the band apart from the herd. Anderson's voice was quite distinctive and their short excursion into the outskirts of jazz toward the end of the song was nothing less than tantalizing. Ian's "Someday the Sun Won't Shine" is next. It consists of just Mick Abraham's guitar and Anderson's harmonica subtly accompanying Ian's vocal but we could still tell that these guys were intent on presenting a novel slant on standard folk fare. One of the tunes our combo rushed to work up as soon as humanly possible was "Beggar's Farm." Co-written by Ian and Mick, this intriguing number confirmed that Jethro Tull wasn't destined to be your run-of-the-mill group but one that marched to the beat of a rebel, off-the-reservation beat-keeper. This song's delightful mix of jazz, blues and rock was a revelation to us that we wanted to share with the world whether they were ready for it or not. (Most weren't) Abraham wrote and sung "Move on Alone." It owns a swinging jazz groove punctuated by an unadorned horn section and is a precursor to the direction he'd take with Blodwyn Pig, the outfit he formed after leaving Jethro Tull. It's a short number but highly entertaining.

The story goes that, realizing he'd never be as influential on guitar as Eric Clapton (duh), Anderson gave up on mastering the electric guitar and picked up the flute a mere six months before recording this LP. If that's the case then he was born to play it because he performs Rahssan Roland Kirk's classic "Serenade to a Cuckoo" like a seasoned pro. This is a splendid rendition of a fine jazz instrumental and it demonstrated to the citizens of planet Earth that the incorporation of the flute into a rock & roll setting was no fluke nor was it a slick gimmick. An honorable mention is due to Mick for his guitar solo that incorporates an unmistakable Wes Montgomery vibe. Ian and drummer Clive Bunker teamed up to compose "Dharma for One," an aggressive jazz/rock fusion instrumental wherein Clive shines brightly throughout his tasteful solo. Anderson's "It's Breaking Me Up" follows, a number possessing a rather typical blues pattern and structure. His harmonica playing is spirited yet it's nothing I haven't heard before. The nadir of the album is their version of "Cat's Squirrel." I'm not sure why they felt compelled to include this since Cream had already been there and done that in arresting fashion but perhaps Abraham selfishly demanded his moment in the spotlight come hell or high water. A little guitar noodling goes a very long way with me so this track grows tiresome in a hurry. Ian's "A Song for Jeffrey" is a return to a more inventive melding of jazz and blues with his flute and harp along with Mick's slide guitar emphasizing the band's cool eccentricity. The false ending is a nice touch, too. "Round" ends things with a jazzy waltz moment of bliss but, at only 48 seconds in duration, blink and you'll miss it.

Released in America in February of 1969, this record (spread mostly by word-of-mouth) was one of a host of pivotal records that heralded the start of a new decade of unbelievable creativity and helped to pour the foundation for what would become the heyday of prog rock. Abraham jumped ship soon after and was replaced with the more adventurous Martin Barre who assisted greatly in making the group's sophomore effort, "Stand Up," a true masterpiece. Yet Mick's bluesy presence on "This Was" distinguishes it from everything else in the Jethro Tull catalog and gives it an odd hue that I find somewhat quaint and curious. Especially in retrospect. 3.2 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |

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