Let me bring you strings from the crypt

JT1

Jethro Tull: The String Quartets

 

No stranger to classical arrangements and the fuller sound that an orchestra or string quartet can bring to his music, former Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson and long term collaborator John O’Hara having seen the Carducci Quartet decided to get together with them and rearrange a selection of classic Tull songs for string quartet, with Ian Andersons instantly recognisable flute weaving through some of the tracks, and John O’Hara playing piano on a couple of them, Ian even adds his distinctive vocals to a few of the tracks as well.

JT2With the striking artwork this splendid addition to the canon is released on 24th March.

Some of you out there might think that releasing an album of old material slightly rearranged is a holding exercise (or a cynical exploitation exercise), after all Ian’s last album Homo Erraticus was released in 2014, and whilst he’s taken his Ian Anderson/ Jethro Tull live show on the road, there’s been no new material since then.

Continue reading “Let me bring you strings from the crypt”

Tim Bowness Lost in the Ghost Light

Years ago, when I was 16 I found an organization that helped with my curiosity about progressive rock, it was called the Classic Rock Society, they were based in Rotherham (a short bus ride away from the small village I lived in at the time) and they met on a Wednesday night in a pub. Beer and prog, all within a short distance from my front door, what was not to like?

One night at the pub talking about prog music in 1995 a friend lent me an album by a band I’d never heard of called No-Man, the album was Flowermouth, and it’s mix of shifting sounds and emotive vocals was my first introduction to the works of Mr Steven Wilson and Mr Tim Bowness, and I was hooked.

Luckily I got to see Porcupine Tree not so longer afterwards, but despite following No-Man and Tim Bowness solo work, it took me slightly longer (nearly 20 years in fact) to see Tim live, with Henry Fool at Eppyfest in 2014, followed quickly by seeing him at the Louisiana in Bristol in 2015.

Continue reading “Tim Bowness Lost in the Ghost Light”

soundstreamsunday: “Velvet Green (live)” by Jethro Tull

songsfromthewoodBy 1977 Jethro Tull was beginning to wear out its welcome in punk-crazed Britain, but the band was still in its prime creative period.  Since 1971’s Aqualung, Tull had been working toward a singular brand of progressive rock, fusing its blues and jazz leanings with the sound and presentation style of traditional songs to create, in the hands of Ian Anderson and his cracked, acerbic writing and vocalizing, an often wickedly pointed baroque folk songbag.  Songs from the Wood gave full voice to Tull’s rural idylls, and provides a kind of bookend to what the Incredible String Band began with 1968’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter:  a freeform referencing of traditional song without going all trad arr (leave that to the Fairports and Steeleye….).  The lyrical and electrical possibilities had ripened as Dylan‘s revolution took a turn towards more European forms, and Tull’s often exaggerated English-ness pervaded both songwriting and production:  if Traffic’s “John Barleycorn” gave the impression that the band was plugging directly into the Yorkshire dales, Jethro Tull’s entire catalog depended on the conceit that you might see them — grubby around the edges — performing as a troupe on any given corner of any given English village on any given May Day.  Disturbing.  Liberating.  And when Martin Barre goes to eleven on his Les Paul, thundering.

The live version of Songs from the Wood‘s “Velvet Green” was not included on 1978’s concert album Bursting Out, even though it was performed during that same tour, but was one of the many lovely additions that made the boxset Twenty Years of Jethro Tull (1988) so fascinating and worthwhile.  If the band was ever in better form live, they were never captured so well as here on “Velvet Green,” a tune of some finessing, with all members of the band playing multiple roles.  Part morris dance, Bach concerto, and dazzling 70s progressive musicianship, the song is a reverie of countryside and sex, rendered in the film without, ironically, Anderson’s trademark flute-between-the-thighs histrionics (his hands here are perhaps, um, full enough, with actually playing said flute and a Martin slot head acoustic).  It is one of their finest moments, and as performances go — sympathetic to the song and to the strengths of its players (even though Barre doesn’t even get near a guitar!) — hard to think of a comparison.

soundstreamsunday playlist and archive

Tom Woods Promotes Steven Wilson!

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A great show by a great man.

Famed American commentator, historian, economist, and man of letters, Tom Woods, is promoting Steven Wilson’s latest album, HAND.CANNOT.ERASE.  What a great thing for the prog world to be given this kind of place of prominence!  Woods has had such greats as Ian Anderson and Steve Hogarth on his show.  Let’s hope he gets Wilson next!

The Woman Who Erased Herself

When Joyce Carol Vincent died in December 2003, no one noticed for over two years.

Was she a lonely old lady nobody knew? Not even close. She was an attractive young woman with friends and family. And slowly but surely, she simply melted away in the anonymity of the city (London, in this case).

Steven Wilson, a musician I like very much (and who has worked closely with Tom Woods Show guests Ian Anderson and Steve Hogarth), was struck by her, and based his 2015 release Hand. Cannot. Erase. loosely around her life.

When I first listened to it, I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t think there was anything there.

Was I ever wrong.

I can’t stop listening to it now. It’s beautiful, brilliant, and emotionally captivating. I’m listening to it as I write this.

The character in Wilson’s story makes the deliberate decision to disappear from society by moving to London. Sounds strange: you’re going to move to a big city to disappear? But as Wilson notes, the strategy makes sense. You could never accomplish this in a small town, where everyone knows you and someone would check in on you.

On the other hand, with masses of people all around, you can simply…disappear.

If you’re intrigued, grab yourself a copy.

Be warned: you’ll need to devote some time to this. These aren’t pop songs you hear on the radio. At first you just won’t see it — well, if you’re like me, anyway. But suddenly you’ll become aware of the beautiful melodies, the evocative turns of phrase, the emotional intensity, all of it.

In the past I’ve given out free CDs of music I like. As a surprise, I told my supporting listeners they could have an album of Tom-approved music if they just asked for it. I sent a $20 double album out last year.

Wilson’s album is selling for just under $10 on Amazon as an mp3 download. If you’re a Tom Woods Show supporting listener at the Silver, Gold, or Platinum levels, just use my contact form to send me your mailing address if you’d like one.

This offer expires March 15, 2016.

If you become a supporting listener at one of those levels between now and then, you’re eligible, too. Just send me your address.

The way forward:

http://www.SupportingListeners.com

Album Review: Ian Anderson, “Homo Erraticus”

Revolutions Per Minute

Homo Erraticus

When they go on tour these days, most artists of Ian Anderson’s age might slot in a couple of new songs into their act, but mostly keep to a standard-issue “greatest hits” setlist. Anderson, clever fellow that he is, however, got audiences on his most recent tour to sit through a full hour of new material, by the rather brilliant stratagem of writing an album-length sequel to Thick as a Brick (entitled, creatively, Thick as a Brick 2) and then performing the two records back-to-back. And you know what? It was a really good record – no match for the original, certainly, but without question some of the best music Anderson has made since the late 70s.

This year he’s at it again, offering a sequel to that sequel in the form of Homo Erraticus(2014) (and touring it, in toto, alongside a “Tull’s Greatest Hits” setlist…

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Ian Anderson – Homo Erraticus – New Release

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Ian Anderson’s new album, Homo Erraticus, is out today, according to his website. According to iTunes, it comes out tomorrow. Today, tomorrow, whenever it is, this is a must have album. I have had a chance to listen to it a couple of times over the past few days, and I am thoroughly impressed. Ian Anderson proves, yet again, that he is a master of modern cultural critique. He is not just some old guy playing music. He is clearly aware of the world of today, and he does a masterful job of commenting on it in a humorous way.

I wish I could give you a full review of the album right now, but professors have this strange policy of wanting papers turned in on time. Weird, right? Briefly, the album covers basically all of British history, from Roman times, through today, and predictions for the future. Ian Anderson and company (which is essentially Jethro Tull, just not called that because of the absence of Martin Barre) wonderfully meld together history with cultural critique. I particularly enjoyed the backhanded reference to his son-in-law, who plays the lead role in the hit AMC TV show, Walking Dead.

The line up for the band is the same as it was on Thick as a Brick 2: Ian Anderson (vocals, flute, acoustic guitar), David Goodier (bass), John O’Hara (keyboards and accordion), Florian Opahle (guitar), Scott Hammond (drums), and Ryan O’Donnell (backing vocals). I noticed that they lowered the key of the music, so Ian Anderson sounds a lot better on this album than he did on TAAB2. O’Donnell also provides excellent backing vocals, sometimes singing lead. The instrumentation is amazing, as you would expect from anything produced by Ian Anderson. I am even more astounded by Florian Opahle’s guitar playing. As my friend and fellow progarchist, Connor Mullin, pointed out to me, his style of playing is more akin to King Crimson than it is to Martin Barre. This is not all that surprising considering Opahle toured with Greg Lake before joining Ian Anderson. His playing is simply fantastic.

In the end, Homo Erraticus should certainly be added to any prog rock collection. Ian Anderson has proved that you are never too old to rock and roll.

http://jethrotull.com/ian-andersons-homo-erraticus-now-available-to-pre-order

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/homo-erraticus/id842600703

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Ian Anderson – “Enter the Uninvited”

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A new song, called “Enter the Uninvited,” from Ian Anderson’s new album, Homo Erraticus, has been uploaded to YouTube by Kscope music. The album is due out on April 14th, and is Anderson’s first since 2012’s Thick as a Brick 2. If this song is any indication of how good the rest of the album is, this is going to be a fantastic album. Plus, the lyrics were written by Gerald Bostock. Enjoy.

http://jethrotull.com

Tom Woods and Progressive Rock: A 30-minute Chat

Tom Woods is one of the foremost political philosophers and commentators.  He's also a proud progger.
Tom Woods is one of the foremost political philosophers and commentators in the United States today. He’s also a proud progger.

I had the great privilege of speaking with one of America’s foremost political commentators yesterday, Tom Woods, about progressive rock.  It turns out that Tom is a huge progger.  I shouldn’t be surprised.  I think we’re both the younger brothers of Neil Peart.  We really had a field day talking about CLOSE TO THE EDGE, SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND, THICK AS A BRICK, PASSION PLAY, IN ABSENTIA, and THE FINAL CUT.

We talked “third wave prog,” too.

Tom was especially interested in the founding and purpose of progarchy.  And, for what it’s worth, Tom is as smart and insightful as he is kind.  A true gentleman.  Here’s a link to our show yesterday.  Enjoy.

“The Episode of the Year”: Woods and Birzer talk prog.

Also, in September, Tom talked with Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson.  Also worth checking out.

Here’s the link to Tom’s website: http://www.schiffradio.com/f/Tom-Woods

The Magical, Versatile Mandolin

I like a variety of instrumentation in my music.  In addition to the usual guitar, bass, and drums, I’m quite fond of a variety of keyboards, enjoy orchestral arrangements added where appropriate, and on occasion, woodwinds and brass.  One of my favorite “unconventional” instruments is the mandolin.

However, the impetus for this piece is not itself the fact that I like the mandolin.  Rather, somewhere back in time I remember someone (I can’t remember exactly who) telling me the mandolin wasn’t a versatile instrument.  I balked at this assertion then, and I still do now.  Having a forum as I do here at Progarchy, I’m now going to debunk that assertion, using different pieces to demonstrate the versatility of this wonderful instrument.  While each of these songs feature the mandolin to one degree or another, by the time you have progressed from the beginning to the end of the list, you will have encountered several different musical styles that are markedly different from one another.  Despite that, I will have barely scratched the surface of the mandolin’s versatility.

So, let’s get to the list.

 Ian Anderson, Water Carrier

This song appears on Ian Anderson’s solo album ‘The Secret Language of Birds’.  As many know, Anderson’s main band, Jethro Tull, features the mandolin prominently on a number of songs (‘Fat Man’ is one of my favorites in that category).  This song features an uptempo mandolin front and center from start to finish.  Underneath though are some very prominent Middle Eastern motifs – not exactly the kind of music you initially think of when you think of the mandolin.  And yet, here it is, integrated perfectly.

 Led Zeppelin, The Battle of Evermore

This is one of two songs on Led Zeppelin IV featuring the mandolin (‘Going to California’ is the other).  Like our previous entry, this song has a somewhat mystical feel to it.  However, instead of the Middle Eastern influences, this piece is more folk-inspired.  Throw in Sandy Denny’s vocals, some Tolkein-esque lyrics, and you’ve got yourself a great song.

 Heart, Sylvan Song/Dream of the Archer

There are a number of songs by Heart that I like, but these two (or this one, depending on how you look at it) are by far my favorite.  This is basically one song divided into two parts each having its own title.  The first part is instrumental, the second part includes Ann Wilson’s incredible vocals.  This song remains somewhat within the realm of folk music as the previous entry, but has more of a “renaissance” feel to it, right down to the sounds of the forest at the beginning before the mandolin quietly makes its entry.  It’s quite different from our first two pieces on the list, and yet it’s probably not a stretch to say that it was influenced by ‘The Battle of Evermore’ … as witnessed by Heart’s performance of the same here.

 Drive-By Truckers, Bulldozers and Dirt

Now we make a big, big shift.  Geographically, we’re moving from the Pacific Northwest where Heart originated down to Northern Alabama, from where the Truckers originally hailed.  Genre-wise, some people call this band southern rock, others call it alt-country, and still others call it Americana.  Whatever you call it, it’s a great song.  Steel guitar appearing later in the song gives it a bit of a country feel, but the mandolin remains the dominant instrument.  The strong ties to its geographic region are evident throughout, as is the bright, upbeat tone.  From their album entitled ‘Pizza Deliverance’ (one of my favorite album titles of all time), this mandolin-driven song about what amounts to an overgrown kid that likes to play in the dirt is a gem.

 Black Oak Arkansas, Digging For Gold

Now we move from Alabama to Arkansas, and there isn’t much debate about whether or not Black Oak Arkansas or their music falls under the umbrella of Southern Rock.  The song begins with a chirping bird, an acoustic guitar, and a barking dog before Jim Dandy’s raspy voice makes an entry.  The mandolin enters at about the 0:51 mark and is persistent through the remainder of the song.  As a bit of unrelated trivia, lead vocalist Jim Dandy, he of the long, blonde locks and flamboyant presence was alleged to be the inspiration for the stage persona of David Lee Roth.  Watch any live video of these guys from the 70’s, and you’ll believe it.

 Led Zeppelin, Boogie with Stu

Now we’re taking another significant shift in musical style – from Southern rock to the blues.  Here Led Zeppelin brings us one of two blues songs from Physical Graffiti that utilize the mandolin, the other being Black Country Woman.  The mandolin is more persistent in the latter than in the song posted here (it doesn’t enter the picture until the 2:38 mark).  That’s beside the point though – in both cases, the mandolin – an instrument invented in Italy of all places – is being featured in blues songs, and fitting in as seamlessly as a harmonica.

 Arjen Anthony Luccassen, When I’m A Hundred Sixty Four

We started this list with one of the giants of the classical period of progressive rock, now we’ll end it with one of the giants of prog’s current renaissance.  Luccassen here gives us a nice little romp that includes the mandolin and acoustic guitar with some strong Celtic influences adding extra flavor.  This is a great song, possibly my favorite off of this album, ‘Lost in the New Real’, which is chock full of great songs.   And speaking of great songs, Luccassen pays homage to another song on this list by doing an excellent remake of ‘The Battle of Evermore’, which you can listen to here if you are so inclined.

So let’s recap the list a little bit here.  We started with music that had some strong Middle Eastern influences, moved to a couple of different folk songs, then took a journey down South with some Americana/Alt-Country/Southern rock, moved onto some blues, and finally to some full-blown progressive rock.  Quite a variety, and as I said predicted above, I’ve barely scratched the surface of different musical styles into which the mandolin can be easily integrated.  So does anyone still want to tell me that the mandolin is not a versatile instrument?  I didn’t think so … 🙂