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Music Review: Jethro Tull – This Was (Collectors Edition)

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Rejoice, loyal fans of Jethro Tull.

A two-disc release of This Was (Collectors Edition) chock full of plenty of rarities, will be released tomorrow. As Tull fans know, This Was is the first album Tull recorded, well before the perfect storm of fans and festivals discovered the British band and launched it into rock stardom and onto a recording contract.

The original recording was made in 1968 when Tull’s line up included vocalist and flute-player-extraordinaire Ian Anderson, guitarist and blues lover Mick Abrahams, bassist Glenn Cornick and drummer Clive Bunker. Anderson recalls that at the time the band was a bit in flux, struggling to establish its musical roots in rock or blues. Although this album was mostly blues, the band soon planted itself solidly into rock (and bid farewell to blues lover Abrahams, who later joined Bloodwyn Pig).

Don’t think that sifting through the tunes Anderson made with his mates when they were fledgling musicians competing with The Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, and other super groups for listeners’ attention, was a trip down a bittersweet memory lane.

“So many of these songs are in our set lists over the years, it is sort of like visiting old friends,” said Anderson. “Of course, some friends you don’t want to visit for too long.”

Anderson’s comment aside, it’s fascinating to hear the rich, full textures of the mono versions of such songs as “Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine,” “A Song for Jeffrey” and “It’s Breaking Me Up.” The songs are gritty, raw, and emotion filled just like the time of which they were born. That’s also clearly evident on the nine BBC recordings from John Peel’s Top Gear, which are included on this two-disc set (Note to fans: Anderson said that as far as he knows, these are all the “Top Gear” recordings available; he is not aware of any others).

What’s arguably even more interesting, in this time of drum machines and pitch correction, is the musical virtuosity with which Tull performed. Yes, the members were clearly old musical souls right out of the gate.

Those who see Tull today, some 40 years after the group formed, will likely find more similarities than differences in the sound quality of the music. While many of the super groups of the 1960s and 1970s reside on the oldies circuit or the “Where are they now?” file, Tull still draws the crowds. Kudos to master showman Anderson who has not only stayed limber as a teenager, but knows how to use his voice to its fullest advantage unlike others who strained theirs to the brink.

Anderson uses his talents to full advantage, entertaining the band’s all ages audiences with modern spin even on his vintage songs. While Anderson and his mates embrace this journey to old musical friends, it’s clear they have no interest in "Living in the Past."

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About Nancy Dunham

  • While Tull fans don’t come a whole lot more fanatical than me, if you are referring to Ian’s voice in the past 25 yrs or so, you are being far more generous than most, thank you. In the 37 years I have been viewing Tull performances unquestionably they have always remained an utterly professional outfit, with loads of different colors in their musical palette, in that regard nothing has changed. On the brighter side re Ian’s voice, ever since the problem was diagnosed, (to my understanding and memory) sometime in the late nineties that it was as a result of the throat and/or neck muscles needed to sing it what often times is a rock band, work at opposites with those used to play the flute, and likely all the moreso given the often times agressive style with which he plays it, and over time Ian apparently strained them too far. Understanding his limitations, ever since about 99 their has been a modest uptick in the quality of his singing. I usually still love it, but I am in a minority, even shows these days where they get brilliant reviews which is often (apparently now that they have been marginalized for at least 30 years it is ok to publicly admit liking them again!)there usually is some mention of the limitation of Ian’s voice.
    But anyway thanks for a nice review of Tull’s excellent if misleading debut. But as the original record inner sleeve stated as i recall, “this is how we were then, but things do change, don’t they?” Or even the title was apparently IA’s idea, knowing that this was a phase they were passing out of, therein This Was Jethro Tull.

  • Nancy

    The throat problems to which I referred were actually in the mid 1980s. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on the quality of his voice. Thanks for taking the time to write.