Shed a tear for the hardcore prog collector — actually, don’t. This week has been absolutely crammed with articulate announcements looking to part fans from their hard-earned cash or pull them deeper into debt. And no, I’m not talking about the upcoming Derek Smalls solo album. Check out what’s coming our way as winter (hopefully) gives way to the spring of 2018:
by Rick Krueger
As I entered Reggie’s Rock Club on the final day of Progtoberfest, the Virginia band Kinetic Element were winding up their set. From the merch stand (where Discipline’s Matthew Parmenter was kind enough to make change for me as I bought CDs), their take on classic prog, spearheaded by keyboardist Mike Visaggio, sounded accomplished and intriguing; I wished I could have arrived earlier and heard more. Plus, you gotta love a band with a lead singer in a kilt! (Props to Progtoberfest’s Facebook group admin Kris McCoy for the picture below.)
The second high point of the festival for me followed, as fellow Detroiters Discipline held the Rock Club spellbound with their baleful, epic-length psychodramas. Matthew Parmenter reeled in the crowd with his declamatory vocals and emotional range; from there, the quartet’s mesmerizing instrumental interplay kept them riveted. The well-earned standing ovation at the end felt oddly cathartic, as if the audience was waking from a clinging nightmare, blinking at the newly-rediscovered daylight — even while rain clouds and colder temperatures rolled in outside.
By Richard Krueger
Retrenching after the thwarted theatrical ambitions of A Passion Play, War Child and Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die, Ian Anderson moved from London to Buckinghamshire in 1976. The Jethro Tull album that followed Anderson’s country retreat, Songs from the Wood, showcased a fruitful new path for both the writer and the band.
With Anderson’s withering cynicism relaxing (ever so slightly) into amused, skeptical acceptance of human folly, David Palmer’s energetic keyboard counterpoint refreshing the group’s core sound, and a focus on traditional British folklore and festivity (courtesy of PR guy/manager Jo Lustig and Anderson’s production work with Steeleye Span), the surprising results included increased record sales, higher chart positions, and expanded tour dates, especially in America. Parlophone’s latest reissue box, released for the 40th anniversary of Songs from the Wood, ably showcases this incarnation of Tull’s appeal.
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.
With 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.
Over two of music and minimal commentary. Featuring music by Arjen Lucassen in his many incarnations and manifestations. Also, music by Big Big Train, The Tangent, Blodwyn Pig, Jethro Tull, Hans Zimmer, My Bloody Valentine, the Sundays, Tears for Fears, Vertica, Sixpence None the Richer, Roswell Six, Matthew Sweet, ELO, Spacehog, and Newspaperflyhunting.
Our first show since Halloween! Lots of great music on this one. Four thirty-minute sets with only minimal talking on my part. A restrained DJ am I! Promise.
- The Fierce and the Dead, Parts I-III
By 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.