Jethro Tull: The Best of Acoustic Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull
The Best of Acoustic Jethro Tull

Thanks to the wonderful All Music website, I was able to count the number of Jethro Tull compilations previously released. I only used U.S. releases, and only those that were on Tull’s main label (Chrysalis) or parent label (Capitol/EMI). Care to hazard a guess as to how many there were/are? (And yes, Living in the Past does count – it’s listed as a compilation.)

The magic number is 10!!!! That’s right, folks. Count ’em – 10 hits (re)packages. The only difference is that the newer groupings have a song or two from the later (and inferior) J.T. releases. Again, using the above criteria, Tull has 20 studio albums, starting from 1968’s This Was through 1995’s Roots to Branches. They also have two live albums during that period, and released two other proper “Jethro Tull” albums afterwards on another label.

So you can plainly see that there’s enough Tull out there to choke a (heavy) horse. Not to say Ian Anderson (Tull’s founder/leader) didn’t work hard for all this; he released a new studio album every single year from 1968 through 1980. (He could have stopped at 1977, when Songs from the Wood came out. Mostly everything thereafter is less memorable.) So if you look at the bulk of the 10-spot of compilations, you’ll see the usual eight or nine “absolutes” that belong on every hits package. I won’t bore you with the songs you know (you’re welcome).

So in Capitol’s infinite wisdom, they felt there must be yet ANOTHER way to repackage Mr. Anderson’s work in hopes of luring some new buyers to the record company trough. And lo-and-behold, they found one! Welcome (with Anderson’s input) to the ACOUSTICAL greatest hits package!

Yep, 24 songs sprinkled throughout Mr. Anderson’s illustrious Tull career have been put together for a (for them) unique compilation. Oh, you’ll hear an electric guitar or two, but don’t be afraid – there won’t be enough loudness to cause pacemakers to shut off or hearing aid batteries to blow. And, of course, like damn near all compilations nowadays, there are the (drum roll, please)…UNRELEASED TRACKS! (And the crowd goes wild….)

Before I go on to actually critique the album, it’s time to drop a major dose of irony here. The one song you ABSOLUTELY expect to be on this package – the one that’s on damn near every one of the “hits” packages – is missing. I mean, everybody can tolerate “Bouree” once in a blue moon, and it’s a song that can fit in just about any older radio format. Having said that, its omission from this grouping is criminal, because it perfectly fits the two criteria of the album’s title: it IS acoustic, and it certainly IS (as has been proven by past releases) a song that belongs in a “best of” package.

Some of the two dozen songs on here are things Tull fans will recognize in their sleep from previous compilations (“Fat Man”, “Mother Goose”, the first edit – the opening three+ minutes – of “Thick as a Brick”, “Skating Away (on the Thin Ice of a New Day)”). A few are two-minute snippets of songs that served as interludes (“Cheap Day Return”, “Wond’ring Aloud”, the intro to “Cold Wind at Valhalla”). There are some very good choice album cuts (“One White Duck/0 [tenth power] = Nothing at All”, “Velvet Green”, “Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow”). There are some interesting surprises; “Someday, the Sun Won’t Shine” has Anderson trading in his flute for a harmonica in an acoustic blues number. “Broadford Bazaar” is along the lines of “Fat Man”, with its Arabic influence. “Weathercock” (from Tull’s Christmas album) is probably the hardest rocking song here, and sounds like it could fit in some of their earlier works.

Kudos, props, applause…all of those go to those involved in mixing the album. The sound is so crystal clear, you will discover sounds you’ve never heard on these songs before; it’s truly startling — in a good way. Musician-wise, it’s just Anderson and guitarist Martin Barre involved in every song. All the musicians, from the earliest Tull incarnation through the most recent, sound solid, though the first line-up is still the “classic” one (with Jeffrey Hammond, John Evans and Barriemore Barlow on bass, keys, and drums, respectively).

Pondering what to rate this, it earned a six because of the sound quality, the fact that it kept to the overall theme of the album, and because roughly two-thirds of the songs are enjoyable, whether you know Jethro Tull’s work or not (it missed a seven because of the exclusion of “Bouree”). But I’d like to give Capitol records a minus-6 for throwing an 11th Tull compilation out there. And the major labels wonder why their industry is slowly sinking…

RATING 6 / 10