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Jethro Tull - Roots To Branches CD (album) cover

ROOTS TO BRANCHES

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.63 | 487 ratings

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thief
3 stars Now here's to the famous Jethro Tull's oriental/world music album.

First things first: Ian's voice isn't any stronger than on previous albums (it might feel even weaker than on "Catfish Rising"). But it barely spoils the show - this time compositions are usually low-key, nuanced, reflective - even contemplative. And that's how Ian should use what's remained of his vocal prowess. The title track itself, "Roots to Branches", is a good of example of such approach.

We also have lots of tasty, ambient synths and keyboards - many times reminiscent of water flowing in mystical gardens and palaces of eternal spring. Joined by double harmonic scales, swirling and articulate flute melodies and all sorts of tribal drums - all elements coalesce into very atmospheric and fresh sound, much more inspired than anything on previous record. Sure, there are tracks lacking in atmosphere (hard rocking "Rare and Precious Chain"), at other times oriental schtick feels forced and dishonest ("This Free Will"), but in most cases the band succeeds in evoking that "positive while mysterious" mood.

Of course it doesn't protect them from serving us some filler - mostly in the form of feeble ballads, such as "Stuck in the August Rain" and "Another Harry's Bar". But you shouldn't skip these songs immediately - the former has a charming outro, while the latter concludes with very apt display of melodic sensibility and cohesion.

I started this review with songs I consider lacking on some level, but as you can see, even these possess integrity and some value. There are no duds on "Roots to Branches" - there is a good deal of complexity and crafty arrangements even on simplest of songs ("Beside Myself" being a poster child).

Speaking of Jethro Tull's craft, I really appreciate the effort Ian Anderson put in polishing his flute technique in 1990s. There was a story about Ian's teenage daughter who took up the flute and asked Dad to show her the basics. But then she realized he's not doing it the proper way - even his grip and posture differed from music school textbooks! Ian used it as a motivation to improve his skill and results were staggering - now he's switching seamlessly between crystal clear articulation and more raunchy, jovial approach of "Stand Up" origin. "Out of the Noise" is a great display of his new musical powers - I know he'd been able to play the intro even 25 years earlier, but this time delivery is top-notch, at least to my untrained ears. Martin Barre's guitar tone improved significantly since "Catfish Rising" too, so that's worth something.

"Dangerous Veils" is all over the place which might be off-putting, but delicious flute licks and very technical coda definitely make up for any shortcomings. Thankfully it's not the only progressive piece here - "Valley" and "Wounded, Old and Treacherous" are really beating hearts of the album and they deserve more attention. Both songs flow nicely and evoke those positive vibes I mentioned earlier. "Valley" gets edgy a couple of times, but the atmospheric synths and acoustic guitar melodies breathe with so much life, like tropical rivers, or clouds dripping with rainbows. "Wound, Old and Treacherous" feature jazz-rock/fusion influences and musical recitation in Frank Zappa style! Epic buildup at 4:10 might be a high water mark of entire album.

I left dickensian "At Last, Forever" for dessert. It seems Jethro Tull revisited its classic sound at least once every album - that intro would easily fit on "Minstrel in the Gallery" and it's coming from Minstrel's fan. I enjoy that song for its grandeur, dignified piano and relaxed, cozy atmosphere. Write this down as a highlight - along with two prog tunes I've just mentioned and the title track.

"Roots to Branches" rarely reaches Jethro Tull's peak, but it's a pleasant listen with no black marks. I think the band put much heart and effort in this record so it transcends with positive energy and very fresh sound (even though you can trace its 1990s origins easily). If you want to take a break from Jethro's hallmark records and try a different route, this one is recommended - especially that it's easy to digest and less dated than "A" or "Crest".

Three stars without blinking.

thief | 3/5 |

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