Jethro Tull – Songs From The Wood
Vinyl | LP Cover (1:1) | FLAC | 24bit/96kHz & 16bit/44kHz
Label: Chrysalis/CHR 1132 | Release: 1977 | Genre: Progressive-Folk
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music.
SONGS FROM THE WOOD, from 1977, is one of my favourite Jethro Tull discs, and represents a brilliant return to form, after the previous year’s disappointing TOO OLD TO ROCK AND ROLL. Singer/songwriter Ian Anderson, in keeping with the recording’s title, revels in his folkier side here, with terrific, spot-on accompaniment from his band (comprised of Martin Barre on guitar and lute, John Evans on keyboards, Barriemore Barlow on drums and percussion, and John Glascock on bass and backing vocals). Additional keyboards and “portative organ” are provided by frequent collaborator David Palmer, who eschews his polished orchestral arrangements this time out, to further reinforce the session’s “rootsy” atmosphere.
The album gets off to a rollicking start with the title track — a cheery, multi-textured piece that features great harmony vocals with a pub-like, singalong feel, ringing acoustic guitars, tight bass and keys, and Anderson’s instantly-identifiable, joyous flute. Anderson’s clever lyrics serve as a sort of menu or traditional “calling on” song, telling the listener of the songwriter’s intent: “Let me bring you all things refined: Galliards and lute songs served in chilling ale. Greetings, well-met fellow, hail! I am the wind to fill your sail. I am the cross to take your nail: A singer of these ageless times — with kitchen prose, and gutter rhymes.”
The tracks that follow ably live up to the promise of the excellent opener: “Jack-in-the-Green,” concerns a diminutive woodland sprite who “drinks from the empty acorn cup” and tirelessly works to bring in the green of summer, even in “changing times” of “motorways (and) powerlines.” The multi-talented Anderson, somewhat of a Jack-in-the-Green himself, plays all instruments on this quaint little ditty, including guitar, bass, flute and percussion.
The following song, “Cup of Wonder” takes the form of a sort of extended toast, exhorting us to meet in good fellowship, and “pass the plate to all who hunger… pass the cup of crimson wonder.” Again, there are fine vocal harmonies and flute-work on this solid and satisfying slice of folk-prog (best served with some chilled brown ale!)
The next number, the harder-rocking “Hunting Girl,” is one of the spicier offerings on the menu, and is generously seasoned with delightful dollops of Barre’s chainsaw guitar. Fans of the heavier side of Tull will especially enjoy this musical entree, which wittily tells the risque tale of an impromtu amorous encounter between a “high-born hunting girl” and “a normal local so-and-so.” Very hot!
“Ring Out, Solstice Bells” is a celebratory song (it’s collected on the new Jethro Tull Christmas CD) that hails the arrival of the winter solstice, when the hours of daylight begin to wax, and the dark, chilly days of the season are on the wane. This would be an excellent choice to add extra cheer to your next festive gathering or compilation!
The sixth song, “Velvet Green,” is also quite tasty, with particularly good drumming from Barlow, and healthy leavenings of rhythmic organ and “singing” lead from Evans and Barre, respectively. This is another wonderfully diverse musical melange; at times quasi-medieval in flavour — at others herbacious and folky. The lyrics detail the myriad pleasures to be found in strolling — and rolling — in loving company “on the green.” A classic Tull cut!
Lucky number seven, “The Whistler,” is a very catchy tune, which, as the album’s single, garnered the band some well-deserved (and long overdue) airplay in the year of its release. The song masterfully combines Celtic and rock flavourings, via flute and guitar, in a tidy, three-and-a-half minute format. It’s a savoury aperitif which whets the appetite for the next course!
At nearly nine minutes, “Pibroch (Cap in Hand)” is the longest track on the album, and, for my tastes, the least satisfying. By no means a “bad” song, the relatively heavy “Pibroch” has some great guitar, but suffers somewhat from being just a tad over-extended and rambling, and risks leaving the (by now almost sated) listener with a “bloated” feel.
Any vague misgivings melt away, however, as the evening draws to a close, and we bask in the warm and hearty glow of the “Fire at Midnight.” By way of goodnight, Anderson bids us to his hearth to contemplate the “dying embers of another working day,” and informs his lady love that “it’s good to be back home with you.”
Before writing this review, I considered giving this CD only four stars, but upon revisiting it as I write, I can only conclude that SONGS FROM THE WOOD is one of Jethro Tull’s more noteworthy and successful efforts, and thus award it top marks. Highly recommended to all confirmed and would-be Tull fans! Please, don’t hesitate to take a walk in the WOOD! There’s nothing to fear, and the rewards are piquant and many-splendoured!