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PROG FOLK

A Progressive Rock Sub-genre


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Prog Folk definition

In the wake of the 1960s, a Folk revival started on both sides of the Atlantic, and got quickly linked with a protest movement, not always, but often linked to more left-wing tendencies, which did not sit well with the authorities. BOB DYLAN, JOAN BAEZ, WOODY GUTHRIE, JOHN DENVER, BUFFY STE-MARIE, but also the FARINA couple Richard and Mimi for the US and SHIRLEY COLLINS and EWAN McCOLL (mentor of BERT JANSCH, JOHN RENBOURN ) for the UK and HUGUES AUFRAY in France. In Quebec, there was the "Chansonniers" phenomenon among which CLAUDE LEVEILLE and FELIX LECLERC were the most popular, waking up the sleepy "Belle Province" and stand up for itself from the English rule. The English part of Canada also brought up JONI MITCHELL, LEONARD COHEN (although he was from Montreal) and NEIL YOUNG.

As DYLAN turned electric with his Highway 61 Revisited album, much to the dislike of purists who yelled for treason, Folk Rock was born, opening the floodgates for younger artists to turn on the electricity. As DYLAN soon abandoned to style to create Country Rock with his next album, his British equivalent Scotsman DONOVAN stayed true to Folk Rock. In the US, THE BYRDS were the main promoters of the style by now, culminating with the superb "Eight Miles High" track with a lengthy (for the times) guitar solo of almost one minute. But countless other bands on the west coast, such as LOVE, JEFFERSON AIRPLANE (and later its spin-off HOT TUNA), GRATEFUL DEAD, QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE, PEARLS BEFORE SWINE, and TIM BUCKLEY all started in the folk rock realm. Even San Fran's SANTANA with its Latino traditional music and, on the east coast, NY's THE LOVING SPOONFUL had folk roots. Notwithstanding the immense popularity of SIMON & GARFUNKEL and their delicious harmonies, Folk Rock was appealing only to the rock public as the older generations turned their backs in folkies.

In the UK, following on their countrymen DONOVAN, many Scotsmen were very influent in exploring new grounds for folk rock: INCREDIBLE STRING BAND (led by Scots Palmer and Williamson) with their two highly influential albums "5000 Layers Or The Spirit Of The Onion" & "The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter" and THE PENTANGLE (led by other Scots Renbourn, Jansch and McShee and their superb bassist Danny Thompson) and its incredible fusion of folk, blues and jazz style were very instrumental in developing the style to the same extent as FAIRPORT CONVENTION and STRAWBS who by that time were still more conventional US "west-coast folk rock". The single artistes in folk rock became known as Folk Troubadours were also numerous and often presented a more progressive side of folk: AL STEWART, NICK DRAKE, ROY HARPER, TYRANOSAURUS REX (actually a duo of Steven Took and Marc Bolan) , JOHN MARTYN etc.

However, the real angular album that will lead to further change of Folk Rock is FAIRPORT CONVENTION's "Liege & Lief" album, that proved to be highly influential for another generation of groups: this album concentrated into electrifying seminal English traditional folk and retained that quaint Englishness taste. It is interesting to see that both leaders of FAIRPORT quit the band after this success to go their respective way: Sandy Denny to a solo folk songwriting career and Ashley Hutchings to a very traditional folk rock. By this time, most connoisseur were talking of Acid Folk, Psych Folk, and Progressive Folk, all having limited differences and no particularly drawn-out limits or boundaries, but all relying on experimental or groundbreaking adventures and good musicianship but not necessarily of an acoustic nature.

Groups like THE THIRD EAR BAND and QUINTESSENCE relied on eastern Indian music influences and, sometimes, medieval tones. Other groups like the weird COMUS, TREES, SPIROGYRA, FOREST, the superb JAN DUKES DE GREY but also TRADER HORNE, TUDOR LODGE, FOTHERINGAY, MAGNA CARTA, and TIR NA NOG were out to break new ground but with less commercial success as their predecessor. By 1972, all of the glorious precursors bands were selling fewer records and had problems renewing themselves and a newer generation of groups was relying in a more Celtic jigs or really traditional sounds. Such as HORSLIPS, DANDO SHAFT, STEELEYE SPAN, AMAZING BLONDEL, ALBION DANCE BAND and SPRIGUNS OF TOLGUS. Although JETHRO TULL had some definitive folk roots right from the start, their only albums that can be regarded as Prog Folk are 1977's Songs From The Woods and 1978's Heavy Horses. Ian Anderson (another Scots) was very keen in acoustical traditional songs. Some Folk Troubadours such as TIM BUCKLEY and JOHN MARTYN started turning records more and more axed towards fusing jazz and folk (a bit in what THE PENTANGLE were doing) , others became more and more electric and they started to be referred to as Singer Songwriters especially those with country rock influences.

In Germany, HOELDERLIN (and their fantastic debut album), EMTIDI, OUGENWEIDE, CAROL OF HARVEST, WITTHUSER & WESTRUPP were exploring German folk while KALACAKRA , SILOAH and EMBRYO were indulging with Indian music. In South America, most notably in Chile, LOS JAIVAS (very bent upon Andean Indian music) and CONGRESO (more Spanish-Latino folklore) were using folk in their rock, so much that some press talked about them referring it with the hateful term Inca Rock. In Quebec, the progressive movement exploded with the cultural identity and the Chansonniers tradition and this was carried out with LES SEGUIN and HARMONIUM and so many more. In France, many groups were out for folk rock such as CATHERINE RIBEIRO AND ALPES, TANGERINE, and ASGARD. In Spain, Flamenco playing a dominant role as well as Basque folk, TRIANA, ITOIZ and HAIZEA were the head of the movement once the Franco regime fell apart after his death.


There is also a very important medieval music influences dimension in some groups as the term Medieval Folk was also mentioned for a while but apparently dropped by musicologists. Among the UK groups are obviously GRYPHON, GENTLE GIANT and THIRD EAR BAND, in France: MALICORNE and RIPAILLE and in Scandinavia: ALGARNAS TRADGARD and FOLQUE.


Hugues Chantraine
with hyperlinks and updates by Ken Levine December 2017

Current Team as of December 2022

Ken Levine aka Kenethlevine
Sean Trane
Andrew aka Gordy

Prog Folk Top Albums


Showing only studios | Based on members ratings & PA algorithm* | Show Top 100 Prog Folk | More Top Prog lists and filters

4.64 | 3598 ratings
THICK AS A BRICK
Jethro Tull
4.36 | 2848 ratings
AQUALUNG
Jethro Tull
4.35 | 1417 ratings
SI ON AVAIT BESOIN D'UNE CINQUIÈME SAISON
Harmonium
4.21 | 1571 ratings
SONGS FROM THE WOOD
Jethro Tull
4.23 | 359 ratings
ALTURAS DE MACHU PICCHU
Jaivas, Los
4.18 | 613 ratings
FIRST UTTERANCE
Comus
4.22 | 237 ratings
ST. RADIGUNDS
Spirogyra
4.68 | 37 ratings
DÚLAMÁN
Clannad
4.16 | 707 ratings
RED QUEEN TO GRYPHON THREE
Gryphon
4.33 | 98 ratings
ERWARTUNG
Eden
4.21 | 239 ratings
MICE AND RATS IN THE LOFT
Jan Dukes De Grey
4.15 | 387 ratings
GRAVE NEW WORLD
Strawbs
4.15 | 395 ratings
HERO AND HEROINE
Strawbs
4.43 | 58 ratings
LUCAS
Araújo, Marco Antônio
4.69 | 29 ratings
CHRISTIAN LUCIFER
Leopold, Perry
4.12 | 363 ratings
L'HEPTADE
Harmonium
4.16 | 156 ratings
BELLS, BOOTS AND SHAMBLES
Spirogyra
4.05 | 1593 ratings
A PASSION PLAY
Jethro Tull
4.05 | 1390 ratings
STAND UP
Jethro Tull
4.04 | 1351 ratings
MINSTREL IN THE GALLERY
Jethro Tull

Prog Folk overlooked and obscure gems albums new


Random 4 (reload page for new list) | As selected by the Prog Folk experts team

STONE ANGEL
Stone Angel
NYA LJUDBOLAGET
Nya Ljudbolaget
II
Espers
II - DEJANJE
Sedmina

Latest Prog Folk Music Reviews


 The Jethro Tull Christmas Album by JETHRO TULL album cover Studio Album, 2003
3.49 | 443 ratings

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The Jethro Tull Christmas Album
Jethro Tull Prog Folk

Review by TheEliteExtremophile

3 stars In 2003, the band released The Jethro Tull Christmas Album. Christmas music was nothing new to this band, having released three Christmas songs in their career (1968's "A Christmas Song", 1977's "Ring Out, Solstice Bells", and 1989's "Another Christmas Song"). Generally speaking however, rock acts do not have a great track record with Christmas music. Two-thirds of Tull's holiday output to date was very good, but I'd rather tear my ears off than be subjected to any of Paul McCartney's or Twisted Sister's Christmas material. (Though honestly, I'd rather tear my ears off than listen to most Christmas music.)

I'll save my general-anti-Christmas-music screed for another essay.

If any rock band could pull off a good Christmas album, it would be these guys, particularly if they leaned into their folk side. And that's exactly what they did. Stylistically, this album is akin to Songs from the Wood or Heavy Horses. Jethro Tull played up their folk past, and it sounds like they had fun recording this music.

The Jethro Tull Christmas Album is a weird release, not solely due to its subject material, but also because of its specific contents. Seven of the 16 songs are rerecordings of  previously-released Tull material. And four of those aren't even Christmas-themed. Three are sorta-winter-themed, which is close enough, I guess. But then "Bourée" is tacked on here for some reason. "Bourée" is also the only rerecording with any significant differences from the original. It retains its jazzy character, but Anderson's flutework is more refined, and the accordion adds a unique twist. (The original is still superior, though.)

Of the other nine songs on the album, only four are entirely new compositions. The opening "Birthday Card at Christmas" is one of those new compositions. Written for one of Ian Anderson's daughters, who has a birthday near Christmas, it's a refreshing return to form for Jethro Tull. It's a well-written, high-energy piece of folk rock which would have fit in on any of Tull's late '70s releases. "Last Man at the Party" is lightweight folk-rock that's carried by accordion and mandolin. It's another sign that Ian Anderson had gotten his compositional mojo back (mostly). "First snow on Brooklyn" is a saccharine folk ballad I'm not fond of, but "A Winter Snowscape" is a lovely instrumental written by guitarist Martin Barre. It's a great way to close out the album.

The other five songs here are instrumental arrangements of other pieces of Christmas(-ish) music. "Holly Herald" is a jovial medley of assorted yuletide pieces. The flute, accordion, and acoustic guitar have great interplay, while the rhythm section keeps it bouncing along. "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" gets the "Bourée" treatment, in that it's been given a very jazzy interpretation. It's so jazzy, in fact, that when anything other than Ian Anderson's flute gets the lead, it borders on elevator music. It's a bit more dynamic and interesting than that, but the sound palette is awfully close.

"Pavane" is a take on a piece of music by French composer Gabriel Fauré. Some moments in here remind me a lot of Tull's glory years in the early '70s in how the flute and organ play off one another. "Greensleeved" (Anderson's arrangement of "Greensleeves") once more veers into jazz territory. "We Five Kings" (guess which Christmas hymn this is a rearrangement of) is probably the least-adventurous of these five songs, staying firmly in the album's folk-jazz lane, but it's still nice.

The Jethro Tull Christmas Album would wind up being Jethro Tull's last studio album. While I'm a bit disappointed they stopped recording, I am glad they were able to go out on a pretty strong note.

Review originally posted here: theeliteextremophile.com/2019/07/25/deep-dive-jethro-tull/

 J-Tull Dot Com by JETHRO TULL album cover Studio Album, 1999
3.02 | 477 ratings

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J-Tull Dot Com
Jethro Tull Prog Folk

Review by TheEliteExtremophile

3 stars Jonathan Noyce officially joined as Jethro Tull's bassist for their next album, 1999's J-Tull Dot Com. (Incidentally, this new lineup would become Jethro Tull's longest-lasting roster, enduring until 2007.) Stupid album title aside, Tull's twentieth (non-compilation) album is pretty enjoyable. It continues in the same vein as Roots to Branches in its combination of sorta-proggy hard rock and superficial "Eastern" influences.

The opening "Spiral" is a pretty decent hard rock song, but it establishes a recurrent issue on this album. There's almost nothing about it that stands out. It's an enjoyable four minutes, but once it's over, the song does nothing to stick in your memory. "AWOL", "Hunt by Numbers", and "Black Mamba" all suffer from this very issue.

"Hot Mango Flush" is a song that does stick out, however, primarily from its sheer weirdness. It has a jumpy, tropical feel, and Ian Anderson seems to be channeling Fred Schneider of the B-52s in his half-spoken vocal delivery.

The title track features the most overt Indian flavors on the album, enhanced through the heretofore-unheard-of use of a guest vocalist. Such influences pop up elsewhere on the album, including rather heavy-handedly on both "El Niño" (which also features Martin Barre's most metallic guitar riff ever in the chorus) and the aforementioned "Black Mamba".

Dot Com ends on its two strongest tracks. "The Dog-Ear Years" Sounds like it could have been on War Child, due to its overt folkiness and dashes of saxophone. "A Gift of Roses" is in a similar mold. It's less proggy in its structure and instrumentation. It's a pretty straightforward song, but the melody is strong, and the accordion was a smart addition. (The original CD release also contains the title track of Ian Anderson's then-forthcoming solo album The Secret Language of Birds as a hidden track after this song.) These two songs demonstrate that folky, proggy hard rock was Jethro Tull's strong suit.

Unlike a lot of previous Jethro Tull albums, I'm not sure there are any songs on this album I'd describe as "bad," per se. It's all enjoyable (even if the album is about ten minutes too long), but so little of it stands out in any significant way. It feels so ephemeral.

Review originally posted here: theeliteextremophile.com/2019/07/25/deep-dive-jethro-tull/

 Roots To Branches by JETHRO TULL album cover Studio Album, 1995
3.60 | 569 ratings

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Roots To Branches
Jethro Tull Prog Folk

Review by TheEliteExtremophile

4 stars 1995 saw the release of Jethro Tull's next album, Roots to Branches. Andy Giddings was brought on as a full-time keyboard player, and the band finally moved away from the dull-as-dirt 1980s hard rock sound. Longtime bassist Dave Pegg left the band partway through recording and appears on only a handful of tracks. He wouldn't be formally replaced until after the album was released.

The music here was strongly influenced by a trip Ian Anderson took to India. Assorted "Eastern" motifs crop up all over this album. Anderson also seems to have regained some musical ambition on this album. Some hints of the band's prog-rock past are detectable. Aiding this is the fact that Anderson continued to adjust his limited vocal range. He (mostly) doesn't sound strained and works well within his limitations.

The title track opens the album with an immediately-evident shift in sound. A distorted riff builds gently, and Anderson's flute playing has taken on a different, more delicate quality. The calm verses segue smoothly into higher-energy choruses. Andy Giddings is a massive improvement over past releases where Anderson was in charge of the keys. His synth tones are smart and complementary. (Note: Giddings did contribute on a few songs on Catfish Rising.)

"Rare and Precious Chain" draws heavily from "world" music, that vaguely-"Eastern" genre of easy-listening ambiance which saw a spike in popularity in the 1990s. But while the synth tones or Indian scales may not have aged super-well, this is still an enjoyable mixture of those influences with unusual progressive rock riffs. It just very much sounds of its era.

Roots to Branches thrives on songs like "Rare and Precious Chain". "Valley" is another strong synthesis of progressive rock and "world music". The alternating lightweight acoustic moments and bluesy, electric riffs work together shockingly well. "Dangerous Veils" continues the successful streak. It contains one of Anderson's best flute lines, coupled with an engaging melody in the chorus. The solo in this song doesn't quite work, though. The jazziness is out-of-nowhere and incongruous.

Not everything on this album is great. "This Free Will" is one of the less-successful songs on Roots to Branches. It feels like something that could have been on Catfish Rising, but they decided to tack on some "Eastern" aesthetics, via the strings and mock-shehnai synthesizer. "At Last Forever" drags on for far too long, does far too little, and the vocals are far too dramatic.

"Wounded, Old and Treacherous" is my personal favorite on this album. This is their best song since "Black Sunday" off A, way back in 1980. It's slow-building with a fun, jazzy backbone, and Anderson wrote some clever lyrics for the first time in a long time.

Ian Anderson has compared Roots to Branches to Stand Up, and I can agree with him to a degree. Stand Up is the unquestionably stronger album, but both albums feature a wide swathe of often-incongruous musical influences that the band somehow made work. These two albums also stand in sharp contrast with both their respective predecessors.

Review originally posted here: theeliteextremophile.com/2019/07/25/deep-dive-jethro-tull/

 Catfish Rising by JETHRO TULL album cover Studio Album, 1991
2.63 | 479 ratings

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Catfish Rising
Jethro Tull Prog Folk

Review by TheEliteExtremophile

2 stars 1991 saw the release of yet another unimpressive hard rock album, Catfish Rising, though at least Jethro Tull switched a few things up. Gone are Anderson's synthesizers. Instead, a handful of studio musicians were brought aboard to provide piano and organ. Catfish Rising also features the most overt blues influences since Stand Up, released 22 years prior.

Ian Anderson seems to have finally accepted that his vocal range was more limited by this point, and this album has his best vocal performance since before his throat surgery. The band members also sound like they're having fun and not just passionlessly laying down bland hard rock (see: Rock Island). They're just having fun playing bland, bluesy hard rock. It's not much of a difference, but it does have something of a positive effect.

A few songs on Catfish Rising are alright, and upon listening to this album for the first time since high school, I found it to be less intolerable than I recalled. I still wouldn't recommend it, but it's not some flaming catastrophe. "Still Loving You Tonight" is an okay blues ballad featuring some nice Spanish flavors in the acoustic guitarwork. "Sparrow on the Schoolyard Wall" is surprisingly fun, and "Gold-Tipped Boots, Black Jacket and Tie" is a return to short-form, jolly folk numbers. As much as the blues permeate this record, it's the mandolin and folk influences that provide the best moments.

Despite those few highlights, Catfish Rising still brims with dragging, unimpressive hard rock. "This Is Not Love", the album's opening track, shows that Tull still liked doing Mark Knopfler knock-offs (Knock-pfloffs? Knopfl-offs?). "Rocks on the Road" is a tepid, slow-moving number that sounds like an alternate take of "Farm on the Freeway". "White Innocence" lacks a single original thought and drags on for nearly eight minutes. It's maddeningly repetitious, and the piano tones are terrible.

"Like a Tall, Thin Girl", however, may be the single-worst song Jethro Tull ever recorded. I'm not a lyrics guy. I don't focus on them, and I'm usually pretty good at zoning them out and enjoying the music by itself. But these lyrics are really, really, unignorably terrible. Ian Anderson's vocal delivery is also reminiscent of his work on Crest of a Knave. It's strained and nasal and grating to no end. I'm just glad this song is only three-and-a-half minutes long.

Review originally posted here: theeliteextremophile.com/2019/07/25/deep-dive-jethro-tull/

 Rock Island by JETHRO TULL album cover Studio Album, 1989
2.70 | 508 ratings

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Rock Island
Jethro Tull Prog Folk

Review by TheEliteExtremophile

2 stars Jethro Tull continued with Crest of a Knave's sound on their next album, 1989's Rock Island, which was  an unremarkable, entirely forgettable hard rock album. Doane Perry officially joined the band as a full-time drummer, though Anderson still handled most of the keys.

Almost nothing on this album stands out. Martin Barre's riffs are achingly generic, Ian Anderson's voice is even worse than on Crest, and the playing itself feels lifeless, flat, and completely joyless. There's more offensively dull balladry, and Anderson's lyrics continue to be awful. It doesn't take very long for me to reach a point where I struggle to write about this album. The Dire Straits comparison I used above is still applicable here, though Tull don't pull that sound off half as well as Mr. Knopfler.

The only song of note here is the title track. It reminds me of "Budapest", but it's shortened to a more reasonable seven-minute length. And where "Budapest" wallowed in sappy balladry, "Rock Island" feels more like a slow-building hard rock song. The song's intensity ebbs and flows effectively, and folk flourishes are deployed to great effect. The instrumental moments here are also the strongest on the album, though some of Barre's soloing does get cheesy and overwrought.

Review originally posted here: theeliteextremophile.com/2019/07/25/deep-dive-jethro-tull/

 Crest of a Knave by JETHRO TULL album cover Studio Album, 1987
3.23 | 649 ratings

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Crest of a Knave
Jethro Tull Prog Folk

Review by TheEliteExtremophile

3 stars For their next album, 1987's Crest of a Knave, Anderson would handle most of the keyboard duties. Doane Perry, who had drummed for Jethro Tull during the Under Wraps tour, and former member Gerry Conway provided percussion on five of the seven songs, while the other two pieces relied on a drum machine.

On Crest, Jethro Tull retreated from the keyboard-forward sound of Under Wraps and reestablished themselves a hard rock act. It should be noted that I dislike most 1980s hard rock, as I often find it cheesy, vapid, uninteresting,. It's just not my music.

On Crest of a Knave, Ian Anderson's weakened voice is immediately evident on the opening "Steel Monkey". Despite that, this is my favorite song on the album. It's a capable hard rock number with strong melodies, aggressive sequenced synthesizers, and some great guitarwork from Martin Barre.

I'm considerably less enthusiastic about the rest of Crest of a Knave. "Farm on the Freeway" is an alright song. "Alright" is a great way to describe this whole album. It's far from good, but it doesn't do much to actively offend. "Jump Start" continues this trend of the music being just alright. It's notable in that Jethro Tull are once again exhibiting some folk influences on it, and Ian Anderson's got a pretty good flute solo.

Crest of a Knave also demonstrates that Jethro Tull were not well-suited for 1980s hard rock ballads. "She Said She Was a Dancer" has eyeroll-inducing lyrics (which have aged terribly with the end of the Cold War), the jazzy tones on the guitar do not work at all, and Anderson's intonation is downright irritating.

"Budapest" is an interminable 10-minute slog which opens with more overwrought balladry backed by unimpressive bluesy guitar noodling. The middle instrumental section is this song's sole positive. Barre and Anderson have some good interplay in their solos, and the organ has some actual impact. But then the vocals come back with more inanity for a very long final four minutes.

The album closes fairly strong, with a pair of decent hard rockers. Though the final song, "Raising Steam", sounds like a Dire Straits song. Everything from Martin Barre's guitar riff to the synths to Anderson's vocals are reminiscent of something Mark Knopfler would have done.

Review originally posted here: theeliteextremophile.com/2019/07/25/deep-dive-jethro-tull/

 Under Wraps by JETHRO TULL album cover Studio Album, 1984
2.23 | 575 ratings

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Under Wraps
Jethro Tull Prog Folk

Review by TheEliteExtremophile

3 stars Their next album, 1984's Under Wraps, is where I disagree with fan orthodoxy the most. This is their lowest-rated album on the sites Rate Your Music and Prog Archives, but I think it's pretty good. Yes, Ian Anderson's flute is minimized; and yes, this at times resembles Thomas Dolby; and yes, they used a drum machine instead of a live drummer for this album. But the compositions here are stronger than people give them credit for. It's also notable for how much collaboration occurred in the songwriting. Anderson only penned four songs on his own, with keyboardist Vettese contributing to the others.

It's worth mentioning that the original vinyl release had a slightly different track listing than the CD I grew accustomed to hearing. "Tundra" was added right smack dab in the middle of the album (being inserted as song #7, on what was originally an 11-song album).

The album opens with electric percussion, a sharp break with Jethro Tull's usual sound. "Lap of Luxury" is a decent hard rock song, featuring a panoply of keys, and "Under Wraps #1" is one of the best songs on the album with its driving main synth line, dark atmosphere, and surprisingly catchy chorus. "Heat" is the best song here. It's a tense, high-energy piece that lets Martin Barre finally have something interesting to do, and Peter-John Vettese's synthesizers (mostly) still sound great.

Under Wraps is also notable for how thoroughly Jethro Tull divorced themselves from folk influences. The occasional flash shows up here and there, like the Spanish-flavored guitar on "European Legacy" or the brief "Under Wraps #2". But the electronics truly take center stage, drowning out many of the band's longstanding tendencies.

Not everything on this album is great, and it does deserve some of the flak it gets. The aforementioned "European Legacy" is an awkward integration of electronics and folk. "Saboteur" has some pretty unfortunate synth brass tones, and "Astronomy" is just not a good song, being a bizarre mishmash of uplifting verses, minor-key choruses, and some of Ian Anderson's worst vocal flourishes. "Nobody's Car" has a main guitar line that sounds like a half-assed Alex Lifeson ripoff, coupled with more terrible '80s synth brass.

Review originally posted here: theeliteextremophile.com/2019/07/25/deep-dive-jethro-tull/

 The Broadsword And The Beast by JETHRO TULL album cover Studio Album, 1982
3.29 | 725 ratings

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The Broadsword And The Beast
Jethro Tull Prog Folk

Review by TheEliteExtremophile

2 stars Ian Anderson decided to continue with the trends begun on A for Tull's next album, 1982's The Broadsword and the Beast. Now sans violin, Jethro Tull began to sound more and more like a stereotypical '80s hard rock band, especially on tracks like the opening "Beastie". Vettese was probably the flashiest of Jethro Tull's keyboard players, and his frequent synth flourishes add to the character of this album. "Flying Colours" is another song where Tull fell into '80s hard rock mediocrity, albeit with some Wakemanesque synths.

Some folk influences still made their way onto this release, however. "Clasp", for example, has flashes of flute and mandolin amid Vangelis-like synthesizers and some uninteresting hard rock. "Fallen on Hard Times" is a more thoroughly folky song, sounding almost like it could have been an outtake from Heavy Horses.

It's not that The Broadsword and the Beast is without enjoyable music. "Broadsword" is an engaging, slow-building piece where Vettese's synths add effective atmosphere. Martin Barre's soloing is also quite good here. "Seal Driver" is another of the better songs, featuring an especially strong performance from bassist Dave Pegg.

Overall, though, this album feels like foreshadowing for Jethro Tull's later-80s output of Crest of a Knave and Rock Island. Before they went there, however, Ian Anderson really wanted to embrace the electronic side of 1980s rock music.

Review originally posted here: theeliteextremophile.com/2019/07/25/deep-dive-jethro-tull/

 A by JETHRO TULL album cover Studio Album, 1980
3.24 | 699 ratings

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A
Jethro Tull Prog Folk

Review by TheEliteExtremophile

3 stars This Anderson-turned-Tull release was A. From the first notes of this album, it's clear Anderson wanted to take a starkly different musical direction. "Crossfire" opens it with glimmering electric piano, and Martin Barre's guitar is mixed rather low. Subtle vocoder is utilized to give the vocals on "Fylingdale Flyer" a robotic quality, and the music is once more dominated by Jobson's piano and synths.

"Black Sunday" is easily the best song on A. It opens with a Rick Wakeman-like synthesizer flourish before moving into a heavier riff, pushed along by flute and pounding bass piano. The minor key verses and paranoid lyrics add to the oppressive atmosphere. Piano lines glimmer in sharp contrast to Martin Barre's dark guitar licks.

On a few songs, Eddie Jobson busts out his electric violin, adding some folk flavors which somehow meld with the slick 1980s sound. It adds power to the main riff in "Uniform", which sounds like a futuristic version of something that could have been on Songs from the Wood. "The Pine Marten's Jig" is a high-energy instrumental where the violin and flute duel it out over mandolin. It's like the 1980s and Celtic folk had a baby. This song also features a springy bass tone that I wish Dave Pegg would have utilized more often.

Not everything on A works, though. "Working John, Working Joe" has a weird, unengaging main riff and chorus, and it drags on for far too long. "4.W.D (Low Ratio)" suffers from a similarly weak main theme, including an unsuccessful blues infusion. The vocoder is borderline-abused on this track as well. The closing ballad "And Further On" is pretty enough, but the first half or so is awfully dull.

Following the tour (which featured the band in some rather silly white jumpsuits), Jobson (who had never intended to stick around long) and Craney left the band. Replacing these two were Peter-John Vettese and Gerry Conway, respectively.

Review originally posted here: theeliteextremophile.com/2019/07/25/deep-dive-jethro-tull/

 Stormwatch by JETHRO TULL album cover Studio Album, 1979
3.49 | 842 ratings

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Stormwatch
Jethro Tull Prog Folk

Review by TheEliteExtremophile

3 stars Stormwatch, released in 1979, is an altogether darker and moodier album than its predecessors. Ian Anderson attributed this partially to the poor state of the British economy in the late 1970s (as evinced by songs like "North Sea Oil" and "Dark Ages"). This dour mood was only compounded by bassist John Glascock's health issues. Due to congenital heart issues, he recorded only three songs for this album before Ian Anderson told him to take time off. Anderson, then, played bass for most of this album. (And perhaps not coincidentally, this album is Jethro Tull's most bass-forward release.)

This music on this album is suitably grim. It retains a lot of the folk inflections of the two preceding releases, but Martin Barre's guitar looms larger and more ominously. John Evan's organ and Dee Palmer's synths add to this oppressive atmosphere. The opening "North Sea Oil" encapsulates this aspect perfectly. It's a song addressing Britain's dire economic straits with an edgy, anxious minor-key riff.

Even calmer, folky moments, like "Home", have a certain downbeat atmosphere about them. Anderson's plaintive singing is enhanced by a mournful string arrangement and some downright-morose electric guitar lines.

"Dark Ages" is, for my money, Jethro Tull's last true epic. It's a complex, multi-parted song that weaponizes the darkness of the music to build a driving, emotive monster of a song.

There's no neat way of fitting this in, but the remastered release of this album features a song called "King Henry's Madrigal". It's a rendition of "Pastime with Good Company", written by King Henry VIII. I'm pretty sure that makes this the single-most British piece of music ever recorded, and I'm also pretty sure that if you drink a pint of British beer while listening to this, you're granted automatic UK citizenship. (I wouldn't know, as being the snob I am, I drink only Northwestern IPAs with enough hops to kill a medium-sized mammal.)

Stormwatch marked the end of an era for Jethro Tull. Following this album their sound would change dramatically, and the overall quality of music would take a downward turn, though they still had a few good albums in them. For four of Jethro Tull's six members, this would be their last release with the band.

Review originally posted here: theeliteextremophile.com/2019/07/25/deep-dive-jethro-tull/

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