Songs From The Wood (The Country Set) [40th Anniversary Edition]
Parlophone, Chrysalis, Rhino
How “Progressive” is rock and roll when you get a 40th anniversary re-issue? It depends on how you view it: was Ian Anderson’s “Jethro Tull” progressive because it mixed classical and traditional British music with electric guitars, or was it progressive because it took old songs and made them fresh to a new generation? Perhaps those are both the same idea and the music on this disk could be timeless. I still own the original vinyl of Into the Woods as well as a rip made in 2005 when computers took over music. Then I have a full Jethro Tull boxed set from about 5 years ago, and now this collection with its naggy watermarking. I’ll give Mr. Anderson this: he sure knows how to milk a musical cow.
Songs from the Wood arrived in 1977 as Anderson’s 10th effort. The band had already released nearly all of their classic albums: Aqualung, Thick as a Brick, Minstrel in the Gallery, and Too Old to Rock and Roll. Anderson was done with writing pop hits, and he had the stature and resources to travel back in time, and record whatever he wanted. Song from the Wood was their last album to chart in the single digits, and his subsequent releases have a clubby, specialist feel. The title track opens strong; Anderson’s flute dances over a syncopated rhythm line embellished with an organ and other symphonic flourishes. “Jack in The Green” carries on in this vein with a simple guitar and flute melody offering the story of a man doing his unpleasant duty to celebrate May Day. “Hunting Girl” adds more electric sounds to the mix, and introduces a note of interclass sensuality, always a dangerous thing for the low born. Then “Ring Out Solstice Bells” presents the winter holiday celebrated specifically as a Druidic event.
The themes are carried forwards; these are songs celebrating the working man, the county farmer, and the pre-Christian traditions of the pre-Roman Celts. While this collection lacks the anthems, and calls to revolution earlier Tull made famous, Song from the Wood firmly plants us in a rural, relatively prosperous society rich with legends, celebrations and lusty rustics. It’s an album that holds up well, and bridges the divide between the imagined past of that Sceptered Isle and the youth revolution of the 1970 baby boomers.