Songs From The Wood
Chrysalis Records, 1977
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/21/2004
So how long have we been doing this gig here at "The Daily Vault"? Put it this way -- I would have sworn that, at some point, I reviewed Songs From The Wood, the 1977 release from Jethro Tull.
Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Any reason to dig this one back out of the Pierce Memorial Archives and give it a few spins at full volume is reason enough to celebrate. With this album, Ian Anderson and crew helped to renew an interest in folk music for many people, all while maintaining ties to their musical past. It was a return to form for the band, and remains one of their best works to date.
There is one word to describe this album -- fun. From the stylistic shifts in the title track and the harmony vocals which are well utilized to the suggestion of bawdiness delivered in an innocent sounding track like "Hunting Girl," Anderson and crew create a disc that the listener wants to listen to, and wants to be a part of.
The mixture of influences is quite diverse, ranging from folk ("Jack-In-The-Green," "Velvet Green") to rock ("Cup Of Wonder," "Pibroch (Cup In Hand)" to even medieval ("The Whistler," "Velvet Green"). But, like they had for most of their career to this point, Jethro Tull is able to jump these styles like they were mere bumps in the road, making the transfers as smooth as can be.
While the title track is undoubtedly the best-known of the nine, there is no clear winner for the best track on the disc. I could easily give the award to "The Whistler," a jovial little number which dares to flaunt Celtic roots and make the listener want to dance a jig to the chorus. (There was a video once for this song, but I don't remember which home video I saw it on. Damned shame; it was as much fun as the song.) But also in the queue for the honor is "Hunting Girl," "Cup Of Wonder," "Velvet Green" and, to an extent, "Ring Out, Solstice Bells," quite possibly the only non-denominational holiday track one will ever find.
Weaknesses? I count but one -- namely, "Fire At Midnight." Even that is a misnomer, since the song is by no means bad, but it doesn't quite live up to the high expectations the rest of the disc built up. I'll use the old argument again: had this song been on a different album, it would have easily been a stand-out track.
While Songs From The Wood marked the beginning of a period where Jethro Tull's music was very rooted in folk, it would be wrong to simply label this record as pure folk music. Granted, the British folk scene was growing at this time. But Anderson and company utilize several musical styles within these tracks, intertwining them to a point where it becomes almost unfair to try and pigeonhole the songs into one distinct cubbyhole. There is a word to describe this sound -- Tull.
Songs From The Wood is one of the best albums that Jethro Tull has ever released, even if it remains in the permanent shadow of such musical giants as Aqualung. In a sense, some of the tracks on Aqualung suggested that Tull was on their way to this particular place in their musical lives. For that reason alone, one could argue that Songs From The Wood is the stronger of the two.