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Jethro Tull - Roots To Branches CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

3.61 | 500 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
2 stars I had high hopes for this thing. I really did. I mean, I feared Ian's entry into the whole "world music" thing, but then again, I generally think that the genre is a big put on. But, well, whatever. Ian can make anything good, right? Uh...perhaps not.

See, all Tull albums are somewhat...downbeat, no? And it's been real interesting to watch that downbeatery unfold. From the eighties on, it's been pessimistic (Broadsword), paranoid (Under Wraps), tongue in cheek (Crest), murky (Rock Island) and accepting (Catfish). For this album though, Ian takes this annoying approach. And it's horrible. Everything seems hopelessly downbeat alright, but not in a depressing way, just in a whiney one. Fuse that with the world music ethics, and a pinch of "comeback," and you've got...Roots to Branches.

In fact, we start off with "Roots to Branches," which is a solid, driving rocker, if not an instant classic. I mean, it's good in some parts, but that elevator-keyboard in the midsection? Unnecessary. Cool lyrics though.

The best song on the album is "Rare and Precious Chain." At least, it's the only song I really bothered memorizing to a certain extent. That whole "Rare and precious chain, do I have to tell you?" part is good, and the riff is solid, albeit played on some evil synths and guitars. Which is okay. Most of the time. But out of all the "Kashmir" rip-offs, this one's the best (and seriously Ian, why take so long? All the other heavy metal dudes took care of that ten, twenty years ago).

"Out of the Noise" is sort of a "melodic sound collage." It's entertaining from a conceptual point of view (a musical recreation of a busy highway), but in delivery, it's a bit of a mess. And if you defend it by saying "that's the point," well, how much do you honestly want to hear a musical recreation of a busy highway? Oh well, it's a tolerable mess at best.

"This Free Will" continues the Eastern themes, but it also sounds a little familiar for another's another "sex with a younger woman" song! And it's about as good as the rest of 'em. In other words, not terribly memorable. "Interesting" solo though.

However, the opening of "Valley" does not prompt any kind of decent imagery. And it turns into a folksy shuffle that's ENDLESS. I mean, it could be pleasant, if it didn't get so boring after a while. Most people feel the need to discuss the lyrics; no such luck from me. And "Dangerous Veils" just feels like an excuse for some dull, Eastern styled jamming.

"Besides Myself" at least has an interesting, jarring, flute 'n synth riff buried within it, but the tune itself is so boring, it's hardly worth digging out. And what's with the sappy lyrics here? "Wounded, Old and Treacherous" is just stupid. I like the cute flute that opens it, but what's this? Ian rapping? Maybe it would have some novelty value, if'n it weren't so long and pretentious. I mean, the flute soloing is okay, but the guitar? Marty, I KNOW you can do better.

Well, the final three are quieter at least. The acoustic opening to "At Last, Forever" sounds VERY familiar ("Jack-a-Lynn" anyone?), but the song itself contains some actual emotion. Too bad it lasts so long. "Stuck in the August Rain" is a pleasant, if ineffectual, ballad. And "Another Harry's Bar" is okay fact, if you've made it through this pessimistic mess, it might actually be emotional. Of course, some complain that it's the most Dire Straight-ish they ever got; and even I, having never really paid any attention to Mark Knofler, have to agree.

I can actually see what people mean when they call this a "return to the classic Tull sound." In fact, this is more a return than Catfish was, since Roots tries to go back to the classic Tull proggy noise, what with all the retro guitar tones ("Rare and Precious") and layered synths ("At Last"). The only problem is...back in the day, Ian would actually attach that sound to some decent melodies.

But there's more than that...well, as if that wasn't bad enough, that most of these things are melodyless bores, they're also LONG, and so is the CD. And that was partly what killed a higher rating for Catfish, if you'll recall.

Perhaps saddest of all is that I can actually hear a touch of potential in (some of) these tracks; "At Last, Forever" could be shorter, and sometimes the keyboard/flute interplay grasped at decency (as it is, stick with Ian's keyboard/flute interplay on his solo album of the same year, Divinities). And "Out of the Noise" WAS kinda funny, it just needed to be cleaner.

Everything's well played (even if there are no good solos really worth mentioning), the lyrics, when they're good, are GOOD (although sometimes they suck), and I do appreciate the progressive throwback production values. Hell, even the Eastern motifs aren't as annoying as I thought they'd be. It's just that it's!

Look, here's the final cut: I'm tired off my ass, and so, I'll let it slip by with a two star rating, for just the reasons above. Perhaps someday I'll return to it, and be SO impressed that I'll raise it to the beloved 2.5 status of such masterpieces as A and Crest of a Knave. You know, assuming I ever feel compelled to put it on again...

The Whistler | 2/5 |


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