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Jethro Tull are here and they're still smarter than their peers
JETHRO TULL: Roots To Brances
Chrysalis CHR 6109
Flutes in rock. Hmmm. Thijs Van Leer of Focus. Does James Galway's epochal rendition of 'Annie's Song' count? It's really just Ian Anderson, isn't it though? Talk of flutes is prompted by the release of Roots To Branches, with more of the blighters on it than any other Jethro Tull album, even in his one-legged, bug-eyed, tail-coat swinging heyday.
When Jethro Tull won that Hard Rock Grammy for 1989's Crest Of A Knave, heckles were quickly raised in the traditional rock fraternity. They were progressive folkies, man. Besides, never the traditional metaller, Anderson had never celebrated the long-legged woman or Yarnog, King Of The Man-Toads in his life. The skewed Tull perspective makes tantalising appearances on Roots To Branches, their first outing since Catfish Rising which so polarised hardcore Tullites in 1991.
In the '70s, Anderson always appeared smarter, shrewder and more waspish than his loon-clad peers. 'Aqualung', 'Locomotive Breath' and 'My God' positively oozed bile, while 'Thick As A Brick' was a sustained anti-bourgeois sneer attributed to the 12-year-old Gerald Bostock. Anderson's voice is still a roguish burr, but his lyrical evocation of a Bombay child prostitute in 'Beside Myself' betrays wider concerns than many. Roots To Branches is the work of a group who know their strengths to be classy, muscular and melodic rock, yet they're unafraid of the expansive and old-fashioned gesture and also happy to dabble in world musics, folk and classical. The title track, 'Rare & Precious Chain' and 'Dangerous Veils' are heavily perfumed by an Eastern influence, lyrically too in the case of the latter pair. 'This Free Will' is attractively modern in its rasping edge and 'Valley' is a witty/nasty political parable. 'At Last Forever' and 'Stuck In The August Rain' both have a yearning sweetness which recalls 'Look Into The Sun' from all those years ago.
Unfortunately they're followed by the closing piece, 'Another Harry's Bar' which is Dire Straits chansons-noir-by-numbers dogged by a host of "cigarette smouldering in the ashtray" cliches. Unless the irony is particularly deep and subtle, it's a stinker. Fans will love Roots To Branches. Even neutrals will admire its sheer professionalism. Unfortunately, there's way too much florid fluting and hackneyed riffing from Martin Barre to ever stop the wide world in its tracks but compare this to Pink Floyd's recent work and the Tull come over like The MC5.
Thanks to Matthew Korn for this article