43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Honestly, this has to be the finest Tull album in ages,
This review is from: Roots to Branches (Audio CD)
There's always that occasion when a group goes through a periodic dry spell, and then they surprisingly releases one of their finest albums in a long time. Jethro Tull happened to be that one group. They had a comeback in 1987 with Crest of a Knave, mainly because people were happy to see the band return to guitar after spending the early '80s emphasizing too much on modern, synthetic-sounding synthesizers. It earned them a Grammy for Best Metal Performance, beating Metallica, which obviously angered the metalheads and puzzled Tull fans as well. Rock Island pretty much treaded the same ground as Crest of a Knave, while Catfish Rising found them bringing back their folk and blues roots, but the problem was that album could have been a lot better than it actually was (for example, I could live without "Doctor to my Disease" and "Still Loving You Tonight"). Then there was the 1992 live album A Little Light Music, which was more or less the Tull version of Unplugged, released around the same time Eric Clapton released his Unplugged, but of course, the Tull album was not recorded anywhere near MTV or its Unplugged program, so the album couldn't be called Unplugged. The album was largely acoustic (even Dave Pegg used an acoustic bass guitar), half them instrumental versions (demonstrating that Ian Anderson didn't have the voice he used to prior to Crest of a Knave).
But I was really surprised with Roots to Branches, the 1995 studio followup to Catfish Rising, I really think this is their best album since the late '70s! The music really took a giant step over its predecessor, many cuts harkening to their earlier sound, but of course there's still that mellow sound that permeates the more recent Tull. Some Middle Eastern influences are starting to pop up, but it's not in huge amounts, the best example being "Rare and Precious Chain". I never imagining Tull exploring Middle Eastern styles before, but they did it quite well here. I really also enjoy "Valley" and "Beside Myself". Many of the other songs have some rather progressive arrangements, like "At Last, Forever", and "Wounded, Old and Treacherous", meaning the progheads who might have given up on Tull by the 1980s might want to consider Roots to Branches. "Stuck in the August Rain" doesn't sound too far from something off Minstrel in the Gallery. Many of the songs also have orchestrations that sound like something David Palmer would do, unfortunately no mention of who conducted the orchestra, and for all I know, it was simply digital facsimiles from a synthesizer from Andrew Giddings.
I notice Dave Pegg only played on three cuts (I guess he was also busy with Fairport Convention, which, if I'm not mistakened, also had a new CD out around the same time), Steve Bailey handled the rest. Also, Pegg left for good after this album, replaced by Jonathan Noyce (who was born in 1971, which meant he was born the same year as Aqualung, and also meaning the group now had band members that were a generation apart in age difference).
Roots to Branches is certainly a breath of fresh air for me, the drums are real, real instruments, plenty of great flute playing (even more so, when Ian Anderson decided it would be better to emphasize his flute playing after he developed throat problams back in the mid '80s), and synthesizers that don't take over. This is certainly the finest Tull album they done in recent times, I was totally amazed. Tull fans will need this CD, even those who gave up on them long ago.
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Initial post: Dec 23, 2011 9:51:45 AM PST
Bud Tristano says:
You are right on it. Think of all the 70s bands that can't even come close to their earlier work, especially when you get to the 90s and beyond. Tull really pulled it off with this release. Roots To Branches holds up to all their 70s albums, it really does. Any hard core Tull fan is in for a treat if they haven't heard this. Radio didn't touch it.
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