Friday, 19 May 2017

"Songs From The Wood: 40th Anniversary Edition - The Country Set" by JETHRO TULL (May 2017 Parlophone/Chrysalis 3CD + 2DVD Reissue - Steve Wilson Remixes and Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...









"...Ring Out, Solstice Bells..."

Lavish and Loony are the words that come to mind.

I must admit by the time Tull's 10th studio album came out in February 1977 - my mind and musical interests were elsewhere. As I recall I bought the UK Chrysalis Records LP as an afterthought later that year and reckoned it was good rather than great. But my God this extraordinary 2017 five-disc reissue has made the country squire in me sit right back up and take notice (pass the jugs of mead boys).  Everything about this fan-pleasing '40th Anniversary Edition' Reissue is utterly exceptional and at an opening gambit of twenty-two pre Brexit quid represents genuinely good value for money in my manure patch. Time to ring out those Solstice Bells methinks...

UK and USA released Friday, 19 May 2017 - "Songs From The Wood: 40th Anniversary Edition - The Country Set" by JETHRO TULL on Parlophone/Chrysalis 0190295847876 (Barcode 0190295847876) is a 3CD + 2DVD Reissue and Remaster with Stereo and 5.1 Surround Remixes by Steven Wilson in a 96-page Hardback Book Pack that plays out as follows:

CD 1 (76:55 minutes):
A Steven Wilson Stereo Remix
1. Songs From The Wood [Side 1]
2. Jack-In-The-Green
3. Cup Of Wonder
4. Hunting Girl
5. Ring Out, Solstice Bells
6. Velvet Green [Side 2]
7. The Whistler
8. Pibroch (Cap In Hand)
9. Fire At Midnight
Tracks 1 to 9 are their 10th studio album "Songs From The Wood" - released 4 February 1977 in the UK on Chrysalis CHR 1132 and 21 February 1977 in the USA also on Chrysalis CHR 1132. Written and Produced by IAN ANDERSON - it peaked at No. 13 in the UK and No. 8 in the USA

Associated Recordings
10. Old Aces Die Hard - Previously Unreleased Studio Outtake (Take 3) recorded October 1976 (working title was "Dark Ages")
11. Working John, Working Joe - Previously Unreleased Studio Outtake (Take 5) recorded September 1976
12. Magic Bells (Ring Out, Solstice Bells)
Track 12 is a Studio Outtake recorded September 1976 - first appeared on the November 2016 "Ring Out, Solstice Bells" UK 7" double pack on Chrysalis CX 40 - a Record Store Day Limited Edition Reissue (2000 Copies only) with Different Tracks to the December 1976 UK 7" double-pack originally on Chrysalis CXP2.
13. Songs From The Wood (Unedited Master)
14. Fire At Midnight (Unedited Master - Previously Unreleased)
15. One Brown Mouse (Early Version - New Mix)
16. Strip Cartoon - non-album B-side to the UK 7" single for "The Whistler" released 4 February 1977 on Chrysalis CHS 2135
17. The Whistler - Original 1977 US Stereo Single Mix - released March 1977 in the USA on Chrysalis CHS 2135 (peaked at No. 59)

CD 2 - Live In Concert 1977 (Part One) – Mixed to Stereo by Jakko Jakszyk (52:09 minutes)
1. Wond'ring Aloud
2. Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day
3. Jack-In-The-Green
4. Thick As A Brick
5. Songs From The Wood
6. Instrumental
7. Drum Solo Improvisation
8. To Cry You A Song
9. A New Day Yesterday
10. Flute Solo Improvisation/God Rest Ye Merry gentlemen/Bouree
11. Living In The Past

CD 3 - Live In Concert 1977 (Part Two) – Mixed to Stereo by Jakko Jakszyk (59:49 minutes):
 1. Velvet Green
2. Hunting Girl
3. To Old To Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die
4. Minstrel In The Gallery
5. Cross-Eyed Mary
6. Aqualung
7. Instrumental Improvisation
8. Wind-Up
9. Back Door Angels/Guitar Improvisation/Wind-Up (Reprise)
10. Locomotive Breath
11. Land Of Hope And Glory/Improvisation/Back Door Angels (Reprise)

DVD 1 (Audio) - NTSC, Region 0 Coding (All Regions)
(i) Contains "Songs From The Wood" album with all associated recordings on CD1 except Tracks 13, 14 and 17 - Remixed to 5.1 DTS, AC3 Dolby Digital Surround Sound and 96/24 LPCM Stereo
(ii) "Songs From The Wood (Unedited Master)" and "Fire At Midnight (Unedited Master)" as 96/24 LPCM Stereo
(iii) The original 9-Track Album as 96/24 LPCM Stereo
(iv) Original Quad Mixes for "Songs From The Wood", "Jack-In-The-Green", "Velvet Green" and "The Whistler" with DTS 4.0 and Dolby Digital AC3 4.0 Surround Sound

DVD 2 (Audio/Video) - NTSC, Region 0 (All Regions)
(i) Jethro Tull live on video for almost two hours at the Capitol Centre, Landover MD, 21 November 1977 - Mixed to Stereo, 5.1 DTS and AC3 Dolby Digital Surround
(ii) Beethoven's Ninth (Original Audio)
(iii) Promotional Footage of "The Whistler"

Like all of these Jethro Tull Book Packs so far - the visuals are truly spectacular and put most other reissues from major labels firmly in the 'D' for dunce corner. A 96-page booklet attached to a Hardback Book Pack assaults your senses with essays and a memorabilia collection that borders on 'W' for worry. Using lyrics from the title track - Pages 8 to 51 start proceedings with a lengthy and definitive new set of liner notes entitled "Let Me Bring You..." It features reminiscences on the mythology surrounding the songs (Anderson living as a 'country squire' in the UK and how the set would be written in-between gigs and influenced by books he was reading whilst on the road), the record's launch, public and press reaction (good and bad) and the subsequent US Tour – all of which was told to MARTIN WEBB by principal band members Ian Anderson (Lead Vocals, Flute, Principal Songwriter), Martin Barre (Guitars and Vocals), David 'Dee' Palmer (Keyboards) and Barrie Barlow (Drummer).

The memorabilia stuff is amazing and exhaustive - Barrimore Barlow draped in suitable Tull attire in front of his kit for a full-page advert selling 'Rose-Morris Ludwig' Drums - differently designed Backstage Passes for Detroit, Toronto and Maryland's Landover (where the live gig on CDs 2 and 3 was recorded) - trade adverts for the album that played on the pun of trees - colour photos from the tour, the lyrics in suitably pretty script, repros of reviews, master-tape boxes, foreign picture sleeves, Chrysalis promotional photos, Dee Palmer's orchestration charts, a day-by-day tour date guide and finally interviews with Trevor White and Jakko Jakszyk about the 21st Century problems of remastering 1977 tapes with inherent audio faults (the live stuff). They've even got a photo of Morgan Studios and the mixing desk used.

But for most fans it will be the STEVEN WILSON Remixes and Remasters that draw. And once again his legendary empathy with Prog Rock and a mixing desk do his growing legend proud. I had the 2003 variant for a while but sold it and I honestly can't A/B this. But I'm thinking I don't need to because my ears are opened. The Acapella voices that begin "Songs From The Wood" are beautiful - the madrigal instruments that usher in the song so clear - those Prog Rock keyboard flourishes from John Evans and David Palmer are everywhere. "Jack-In-The-Green" is sensational - Anderson's slightly echoed vocals perfectly aligned with those acoustic strums - it sounds just huge. "Cup Of Wonder" is the same - the instruments alive and swimming in your speakers - amazing to think that this much musical complexity and precision was Take 1. Synth sounds open "Hunting Girl" which for me is the most Prog sounding romp on the LP - those rattling Barrie drums - that flanged guitar - now right up and in your face. You feel that Bass in the festive "Ring Out, Solstice Bells" - kitchen prose and gutter rhymes indeed. "Velvet Green" is probably the most impressive of tracks improvement-wise - that final Flute and Piano battle - those acoustic strums that hark back to "Living In The Past" Tull - brilliant. At 3:32 minutes and sporting a vaguely usable melody (treated vocals and a bop-Irish beat) - "The Whistler" was issued as a 45 in March 1977 and amazingly its Gordon Giltrap vibes pushed it all the way up to No. 59 on the US singles charts. The mad Prog guitars that open "Pibroch (Cap In Hand)" take no prisoners - floating in and out of the soundstage until they settle into a familiar Tull shuffle. The album ends on the ethereal drums of "Fire At Midnight" - so eccentrically Jethro Tull.

Fans will flip for the near nine-minutes of the Previously Unreleased "Old Aces Die Hard" - gorgeous acoustic guitars - brilliant vocals and choppy rhythms alternating between Folk and Prog. It's almost like an "Aqualung" outtake as the electric guitars build and build towards the end in a very Yes kind of way (nice touch to include the lyrics on Page 64). Someone sawing wood opens the second genuine outtake offered here - "Working John, Working Joe". Again it's shockingly good with fantastic guitar chops from Martin Barre – the character in the song waxing angry about how he slaves while others sloth - working thirteen hours when most work only eight. And as far as I know this is also the first CD appearance of the November 2016 Record Store-only 7" single track "Magic Bells (Ring Out, Solstice Bells") – a rarity in itself after less than a year in the vinyl marketplace. "Old Brown Mouse" is a great Anderson acoustic jangle and if it is 'probably a Demo' as the liner notes suggest – it's an amazingly accomplished one. Fans will appreciate the B and A-side singles of "Strip Cartoon" and "The Whistler" - both of which bring a near perfect CD1 to a close.

I suspect that some judicious editing was done on the two live CDs (not that I'm complaining) because they work so well thematically and the Audio is also shockingly good. Introducing every song with his customary witticisms and broad English squire voice - Ian Anderson opens proceedings by announcing himself as the support act 'Arnold Stirrup'. He then promptly thrills the crowd with a one-two of Acoustic goodies - "Wond'ring Aloud" and the US hit single "Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day". Even though the audience seems miles away if not entirely removed from the tapes - the band and the instrumentation feel live and in your living room - superbly cleaned up and with their playing prowess as impressive as ever - something that becomes very evident when they go into the complexities of "Thick As A Brick" (announced with a Led Zeppelin jab) and the Medieval Acapella beginning of "Songs From The Wood" (John Evans has Bronchitis so he’ll be crap Anderson teases). The same applies on Disc 2 with the "Aqualung" tracks "Cross-Eyed Mary" and "Wind-Up" eliciting frenzy. Jakko Jakszyk did the Stereo masters and Audio transfers and I think Tull fans will be licking their lips at the thought of "Bursting Out - Live" Part 2 – because that’s what this 100-minutes of primo JT feels like.

After the high of the three CDs - DVD 2 comes as a slight letdown. The Audio is the same top-notch job but the video is blurry (so very Seventies) and is best described as a really good bootleg rather than anything better than that. With his red bowler hat, half beard, acoustic guitar and mad bug eyes - Ian Anderson's witty ad-libs between songs suddenly start to make sense when you see what accompanied them - his band looking like a troupe of woodland gypsies that have gorged on too many wild mushrooms or extras from "One Flew Over The Cuckoo Nest". But the concert is great and it also allows you to pick three Audio options from the Menu - Stereo LPCM, DTS 5.1 Surround and Dolby AC3 5.1 Surround.

To sum up - Jethro Tull are very much a Marmite band - they engender true collector's passion amongst fans whilst others will develop a fatal Ebola rash at the mere mention of their Minstrel Name. But there's no doubting in my mind that like 'em or no - this is already a contender for 'Reissue Of The Year' 2017. Well done to all involved and please apply the same lavish lust to 1972's "Living In The Past" double-album - 45 years young this very year.

"...Let me bring you love from the field..." - Ian Anderson sang on the title track to "Songs From The Wood". Job done mate...

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