What does it sound like?:
In February 1977, Ian Anderson surprised fans and critics alike with the direction and sound of this, the tenth Jethro Tull album, Songs From The Woods. It perhaps rather controversially marked a move away from their well-established prog rock sound, although that was still very much in evidence at times, towards a more rural, rustic theme, influenced heavily by the countryside and its folklore, legends and rituals.
Subtitled The Country Set, it now is reissued as the next release in this ongoing and unremittingly excellent series of Tull reboots, and damn fine it is too. The deluxe set comprises a whopping three cds, two dvds and a bulky ninety six page book.
The first cd, as usual, contains Steven Wilson’s new stereo mix of the original album, one of the band’s more commercial offerings with its mix of rock, folk and prog influences. This is augmented by a number of associated recordings from that period – some of these have appeared before such as Strip Cartoon, which I always associate with TOTRR and One Brown Mouse, which likewise I place with Heavy Horses. Speaking of which, there’s no place here for Beltane, which has appeared on previous reissues as a bonus track, as presumably it is earmarked for the HH reissue in the fullness of time. The major finds here though are two of the previously unreleased tracks: Working John, Working Joe, which eventually turned up a few years down the line on the ‘A’ album, is decent enough, while maybe not being out of the very top drawer. On the other hand, Old Aces Die Hard, is an excellent long (9 mins) complex piece, apparently discovered in an almost finished state on a tape reel, presumably overlooked for whatever reason at the time and then subsequently forgotten. This song is a real find, only recently having been given its title by Ian Anderson, and, as Steven Wilson said recently, it is the undoubted highlight of the treasure chest of unreleased material that has so far been unearthed in this series.
The second and third cds contain a reconstructed live set from two nights on their 1977 US tour – this has been put together and remixed by Crimson stalwart Jakko Jakszyk, and is previously unheard. As you’d expect, the set is a mix of greatest hits plus the then current album, although there’s maybe not as much from that as you might expect. A good job has been done with the sound though, and it does well in capturing the band’s live shows in that era. It is slightly odd to think that in late 1977, as England was in the grip of punk, Tull were playing to sold out arenas on a US tour.
DVD wise, the first has the usual plethora of mixes – a 5.1 surround version, plus transfers of the original and new stereo mixes of the album and its bonus tracks – there’s even a handful of quad mixes included. The second dvd has video footage of a full concert, taken from the big screens at one of the shows used on the live cds. This has been unseen since that night almost forty years ago, and shows the band in great form. I’m not a great watcher of concert dvds, the music alone is enough for me, but this is certainly worth a look from a historical perspective if nothing else.
Completing this package is the usual top quality book, which is a fascinating read – among other things, there’s track by track notes by Anderson, lyrics, articles on the writing, recording and touring of the album, including a complete timeline of events, and also on the construction of the live album and DVD.
What does it all *mean*?
This is quite simply a great album, recorded by one of Tull’s strongest line ups. It has stood the test of time far better than some of their other albums, and this deluxe reissue is a credit to both the band for originally making such a marked change of direction at the time of recording, and to Steven Wilson for the work that he’s done in what was obviously something of a labour of love.
This series of reissues just keeps getting better and better – I’m already waiting for Heavy Horses, which will presumably follow next year, and then subsequently Stormwatch, to complete this trilogy of what many would say are the band’s last great albums.
Goes well with…
A flagon or two of country ale.
Might suit people who like…
Kitchen prose, gutter rhymes and divers.