In 1995, Jethro Tull released their last quality original album. Here we witness their sound coming full circle from their blues days, to their prog-folk period, through the Celtic period, the electronic period, coming back to blues (Catfish Rising) and going back to prog-folk on Roots to Branches.
The title track is killer---it features the most advanced flute playing we have ever heard from Ian Anderson, the bulk of the music being written around catchy flute lines and melodies. The song starts with a hard guitar sound from Martin Barré, characteristic of Tull’s “Steel Monkey” days. The song quickly progresses into some of the catchy melodies and lyrics Tull is known for. It's actually sort of the “Farm on the Freeway” of the record. From there the music moves on to the elegant “Rare and Precious Chain”, an extremely catchy tune with a Celtic ring. “Out of the Noise” is a song whose ridiculousness takes a while to get used to---it’s about a stray dog---it’s just so stupid you wonder if they’re serious or not. Once you warm up to it, the music is great.
“This Free Will” is another great song, featuring excellent melodies (centered around Anderson’s fantastic flutemanship) and as usual great playing from Barré. Also, you will have begun to notice Tull replacement members Doane Perry on skins and Dave Pegg on bass. The fourth generation Tull rhythm section really holds its own weight, and in all respects, much of the band’s weight.
“Valley” preserves the pattern of great songs so far, being perhaps the greatest tune of the record. Here we are greeted with one of Anderson’s long-missed acoustic arrangements that colored albums like Minstrel in the Gallery and Aqualung, that we have not seen since Heavy Horses in 1978. This record gives a good dose of these arrangements, as well as the trademark Tull irreverence that pops up now and then (just about every track) and lots of great flute. This is also characterized on “Dangerous Veils” as well, another great song.
Another great Anderson acoustic awaits us on “Beside Myself” where Anderson reflects on world poverty. We can also hear Andrew Giddings on piano in the background. Through the rest of the record, it’s like he’s not there at all, except to provide cheesy background noises.
“Wounded, Old, and Treacherous” has that Dire Straits feel that characterized “She Said She Was a Dancer” and “Budapest” on 1987’s Crest of a Knave. It also contains some tasteful flute instrumental sections (really dig that flute!). Another Anderson acoustic comes your way on “At Last, Forever”, which has a Minstrel feel to it---though it doesn’t quite settle into that groove.
The last two tracks sound painfully like filler and are songs I personally don’t care for.
As far as the production, this is the worst I’ve ever heard from Abbey Road studios. The rhythm section that plays so well is almost muted out from the mix---like it's washed out. The drums are over-compressed, making for a cheesy, fabricated 80’s sound in the mid 90’s. The bass has a terrible sound and is way too low in the mix. The keys are distractingly cheesy. The mids are too low and the highs are too high. The low-end is virtually non-existent. But...
...the music is great. Every Tull fan should own this album. It may be hard to find because it is out of print, but it can be found at used record stores.