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Jethro Tull - Songs From The Wood CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.18 | 1373 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Dave Pegg once said that "Jethro Tull was a far better folk rock band than Fairport Convention was," or words to that effect. Well, that was probably because Uncle Ian was employing him at that second, but Tull's folk rock odyssey kicks into overdrive on this album. Some have suggested that folkish undertones have existed since day one (or at least since "A Christmas Song"), and I won't disagree. But still, Songs is the album which we're talking about, and I won't drift off topic! ...Much.

Anyway, Songs From the Wood opens beautifully with, imagine that, "Songs From the Wood;" which for a while seems as though it will be like that Christmas Song, only faster. It's all vocal and light and fluffy. But about midway through, the cymbals start crashing, Palmer's synths and Martin's guitar start dueling, and when the mandolins come in, you know you're doomed (uh, in a good way, of course).

Yep. Songs From the Wood is what I like to call "heavy wood," a phrase not exactly endemic to Jethro Tull (as it turns out). By that I mean most of the songs on Songs turn out to be charming folk undertones, with some progressive dressing, and blasted through the hard rock flute.

Now, it still does have those charming folk undertones, as present in the next track, the bright 'n folksy "Jack-in-the-Green." This is, of course, the infamous "Ian played all the instruments" track...well, one of them anyway. "Cup of Wonder" is sort of a forgotten classic (except by, a site to whom I owe no allegiance (but my check's in the mail, right guys?)); it's a Celtic rocker that's unequalled by all (save the Whistler, of course).

"Hunting Girl" might be the fan favorite off the album (it's the reason I bought the dern thing). It's got what might be the most quintessential Tuller mix; Barre's sharp, metallic riffage paired with John Evan's blatting pipe organ, in front of pounding bass and driving drums. And of course, classic Ian flute and dirty lyrics.

A little change is brought in by the runaway radio hit that is "Ring Out Solstice Bells," which is softer, slightly more orchestral (courtesy of Palmer's synths again), and damn near jazzy towards the middle. "Velvet Green" is a rolling, folky, largely acoustic number, with a jumping mandolin/portative pipe organ driven instrumental midsection. Both numbers are inoffensive, but not quite as powerful as the harder stuff.

Not so for the final three number, probably the darkest of the lot of 'em (prep for Horses?). Of these, "The Whistler," takes the goose as my favorite song on the album. It manages to encompass the entire record in a song. It's over the top, of course, but it's also charming. It pulls you in with ghostly acoustic guitar and bells, then it turns into a frantic fife exercise for our favorite resident mad flautist. The instruments are layered perfectly, and the tune remains one of my favorites.

Naturally (and unfortunately), once you've hit the top, you can only go down. And down you go, with the vile "Pibroch (Cap in Hand)." I liked the concept as demonstrated by the lyrics, but that's it. "Pibroch" starts out innocently enough, but once you realize that the song is going to be mostly those same guitar noises over and over again, well, it has a way of wearing on you. It's not charming like "Jack," it's not beautiful like "Whistler," it's not fast enough to pull you along (like a "Hunting Girl"). It's not even folksy at all, except for the acoustic bridge, which is sadder than the song around it, because it shows what it COULD have been (although I'm guessing the "clap along" aspect made it better in live shows).

Still, the album earns a little back with the beautiful (albeit a bit forced, er, I mean, "bombastic") "Fire at Midnight." It's a pleasant enough tune, with a very cool, complex instrumental bridge. Overall, a nice ending to a nice album. In fact, between "Songs" and "Fire," the album flows very well, and remains a favorite listen.

So that leaves us with an album with only one song that pisses me off, not bad. That, of course, stops it from pulling a flawless rating. The record is a fan favorite, and it's easy to see why; the sound is really solidified. This of course leads it to be a little thin stylistically. I mean, there's only so many ways to play the whole "folk-ROCK" Tull tune. But I think that tracks like "The Whistler" and "Cup of Wonder" pull the album from any monotony. A good buy; some people suggest it's the first album you get to get into Tull. Well, it was one of my first Tull albums, and look at me now! I'm not crazy...

(Psst! Songs From the Wood comes equipped with two, count 'em two, bonus tracks. And they are both absolute filler, of the best "buy the album again" sort. "Beltane" is a howlin' rocker, much heavier than anything on Songs. Although it's still about woods and ancient rites and such, the delivery makes it come off as a little empty headed. Slightly better is a live cut of "Velvet Green," but it's not, you know, amazing-tastic. It's just your standard Tuller fare, live from the vaults. No one will kill you if you don't feel like listening past "Fires at Midnight" every time.)

The Whistler | 4/5 |


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