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Jethro Tull - J-Tull Dot Com CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

3.01 | 419 ratings

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4 stars As a young cub I was an avid fan of Jethro Tull up until "Aqualung" came along. I realize that the majority of folks consider that record to be a brilliant milestone but in my mind it ruined their mystique and made them sound ordinary and imitative. I quickly got over my disappointment, though, and moved on to adore other prog pioneers like Yes, Genesis and ELP who tickled my fancy just as convincingly. About six years ago I decided to start catching up with the group's subsequent product one album at a time, concentrating mainly on the records they released from '72 to '87. You see, one of the few advantages of aging is that elapsed decades grant perspective. Some were good, some were excellent and some were lousy. I didn't hold out much hope for being impressed with anything that came after the oddly confounding "Crest of a Knave" and skipped ahead to their most recent studio creation, 1999's "J-Tull Dot Com," just to see where they ended up. I feared the worst but was pleasantly surprised by it. The music is fresh, not dated at all, and it seems they were no longer trying to beat their listeners over the head anymore. They've matured and mellowed like a fine wine. Just like I have.

Unfortunately, they open with the least attractive song on the disc, "Spiral." My initial impression was that they were foolishly attempting to live up to the misapplied label the Grammys stuck on them when they awarded the very first hard rock/metal LP-of-the-year trophy to them in the late 80s. Perhaps I'm mistaken and they weren't doing anything of the sort but they do cop a very noisy, aggressive attitude musically on the verses and choruses while, in their favor, during the middle instrumental section they back off and achieve a decent level of progginess. The positive news to come out of this cut is that Ian Anderson's nagging vocal ills appear to be behind him at last. "Dot Com" is next and it's an endearing throwback to Tull's formative stage. The tune's subtle, smooth mien fits them better and Ian's flute playing is shockingly good. What I like best about it is that it deserves to be crowned with a moniker I find to be woefully rare these days: Interesting. "AWOL" follows and it's even more of a step up. I truly admire their not abandoning their imaginative prog mindset and choosing to continue to boldly mix folkish melodies with contemporary rock instrumentation, something they've done better than anyone else since '68. This number is primo JT material and proves that they haven't lost contact with their unique genius. "Nothing at All" is a short but superb solo piano intro to "Wicked Windows," a strangely-arranged rocker possessing a light jazz coloring that tints the atmosphere ever so slightly. I admire the complex nature of the song but, in all honesty, I find nothing to lock into or focus upon. "Hunt by Numbers" is uneven. Martin Barre's electric guitar tone isn't as brash and brittle as in the past but the band struggles when they base a tune so heavily on a riff. Gotta hand it to Ian, though. He tears it up on the flute spectacularly.

At this point the album could've disastrously headed south but, instead, it improves dramatically via the fun, eclectic "Hot Mango Flush." As if Jimmy Buffett woke up one morning in Progland instead of Margaritaville, this delightful cut features a tasty blend of acoustic and electric guitars that anchor an intriguing, motivational groove. At the same time, they don't shy away from taking some complicated detours from the norm. "El Nino" is one of those songs that's hard to describe because it's so schizophrenic, turning on a dime from light to dark repeatedly. It may not be greatness but boring it surely ain't. "Black Mamba" is a cool rocker driven by alternating measures of 8/8 and 6/8 time signatures that wisely avoids overexploiting Barre's guitar line, allowing the stirring orchestration to augment the central melody Led Zeppelin style. "Mango Surprise" is a brief semi-reprise of the earlier tune but this time the theme is presented inside a playful yet strong percussion presence. "Bends Like a Willow" is a small step back, an inauspicious rock ditty that at least contains a somewhat adventurous instrumental interlude. The remainder of the record is top-notch, though, beginning with "Far Alaska." It's another nostalgic revisiting of their stupendous "Stand Up" era when they liberally indulged in blues, jazz, folk and rock & roll flavorings without asking anyone's permission to do so. I love it when they break all the rules as they do here. "The Dog-Ear Years" offers evidence that modern studio technology suits them quite well as they're more able than ever before to weave a myriad of tracks of various instrumentation together without any of them clashing or cluttering up the overall ambience. They end with "A Gift of Roses," a wonderful tune that assures proggers worldwide that progressive folk fare is not only upright and breathing but has the potential to thrive in the 21st century if the new generation will take the baton and run with it. The track's tactful accordion adds character to the number and, if you're anything like me; it leaves you with a satisfied smile on your mug.

No doubt, Jethro Tull's glory days are over and this could possibly be the final "official" album from them we'll ever hear as evidenced by 2012's "TAAB 2" being released as principally an Ian Anderson solo project. (The JT Christmas record from '03 belongs in a different category altogether, I suspect.) If that's the case then I'm content and I applaud them for going out on a high note with "J-Tull Dot Com." They certainly outlasted most of their prog peers and didn't take shortcuts or make lame excuses about being too old to rock & roll anymore when they got down to business and produced this one. It's a more-than-respectable record that has many more ups than downs so I don't hesitate to recommend it. 3.5 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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