Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jethro Tull 6: Living In The Past

Now that they’d gotten very far away from their roots, it was time for Jethro Tull to look back. Living In The Past first arrived in a thick cardboard package, like old 78s used to, with a booklet of photos showing how the band had changed from album to album. Along with familiar hit singles from the albums, various non-album tracks helped sweep up anything that might have gone missing, and demonstrate their progress—particularly in America, where some songs were making their vinyl debut.
Beginning appropriately with “Song For Jeffrey”, several early singles get wider exposure, from what sounds like an electric mandolin on “Love Story” and the reverent yet cautionary “Christmas Song”. The collection’s title track has since become an FM radio staple, if one can imagine a 5/4 tune with a flute part that quotes from “You Really Got Me” becoming a hit. “Driving Song” is a blues shuffle, and “Bourée” represents the second album.
The sinister “Sweet Dream”, made more unsettling by the trumpets, gives way to the more swinging “Singing All Day”. “Teacher” represents Benefit, while “Witch’s Promise” points to the English folk sound where they were headed next. The Americans could now enjoy the tightly intricate “Alive And Well And Living In” (in place of “Inside”), more so than the celeste-driven “Just Trying To Be”.
What was side three presents two selections from a Carnegie Hall concert, and recorded very cleanly, we might add. “By Kind Permission Of” is a mostly-solo piano medley of familiar classical themes and blues clichés, joined here and there by Ian’s flute, the band coming in at the very end. “Dharma For One” is extended for even more soloing.
Sporting the appetizing image of “the excrement bubbles”, “Wond’ring Again” was a predecessor to “Wond’ring Aloud” from Aqualung; here it’s followed by “Hymn 43” from that album, while the Brits got “Locomotive Breath”, which would have been preferred. The balance of the set presents the Life Is A Long Song EP; the title track, the nostalgic “Up The ‘Pool” and the grateful “Nursie” make it a less labored alternative to the sound of Thick As A Brick, while “Dr. Bogenbroom” and the instrumental “For Later” pick up the pace in between.
Because of the differences between the UK and US lineups, and future attempts to squeeze everything onto a single CD, several editions of Living In The Past have emerged over the years. But whatever the sequence, the first-time listener (guilty) will be pleasantly surprised at the new sounds, the “hits” kept to a minimum. And because it covers the arc of five albums, there’s not a lot of sameness over the two LPs.

Jethro Tull Living In The Past (1972)—

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