Jethro Tull Release First New Album in More Than 20 Years

Lately, it almost starts feeling like I live in some parallel universe of March 1971 and the present. In March 1971, both Jethro Tull and John Mayall released new albums, Aqualung and Back to the Roots, respectively. Last Friday, January 28, the same thing happened again. While I had known about Mayall’s record The Sun is Shining Down, which I reviewed here yesterday, Jethro Tull’s The Zealot Gene came as a total surprise. Not only is history’s repetition remarkable, but also the fact that both new releases are truly compelling.

The Zealot Gene is Tull’s 22nd studio album and their first new record since The Jethro Tull Christmas Album from September 2003. It also is their first new album of all-new music since J-Tull Dot Com that came in August 1999. Of course, four-fifths of 2022 Tull are different compared to 1971. But the most important original member, Ian Anderson, is still around, and, boy, does he sound great! His vocals and multi-instrumental chops including his distinguished flute-playing remain in mighty shape.

Jethro Tull (clockwise from upper left): Ian Anderson, Joe Parrish, David Goodier, John O’Hara and Scott Hammond

The other members of Tull aren’t exactly newbies either. Joe Parrish (guitar), John O’Hara (piano, keyboards, accordion), David Goodier (bass, double bass) and Scott Hammond (drums, percussion) each are experienced musicians. Except for Parish who became a member in 2020, each has been part of the band’s touring lineup for various years. The album also features Florian Opahle on electric guitar, who played with Tull from 2003 until 2019.

Here’s some additional background on The Zealot Gene from Tull’s website: A record that began to take shape as early as 2017, ‘The Zealot Gene’, in many ways, seeks to defy convention during a time when the business of being a touring and recording artist has never faced more uncertainties. Tull bandleader Ian Anderson holds no reservations about the role for which the mythos and themes of Biblical storytelling played in the lyrical content of the new album, saying:

“While I have a spot of genuine fondness for the pomp and fairytale story-telling of the Holy Book, I still feel the need to question and draw sometimes unholy parallels from the text. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly rear their heads throughout, but are punctuated with elements of love, respect, and tenderness.

Looking back on the earth-shaking disruption of the Coronavirus pandemic, which ultimately ended the band’s touring plans and hopes of a 2020 release for ‘The Zealot Gene’, Anderson shares, “It was so sudden. Amidst the concerns and warnings of the scientific community and a few more enlightened politicians, we all retreated in disbelief to our homes to wait out the storm.”

I’d say let’s go for some music. Here’s the opener Mrs Tibbets. Like all other tracks on the album, it was written by Anderson. “One of the words that I wrote was ‘retribution,’ which was visited upon the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah by the angry God, Yahweh,” Anderson told Apple Music in discussing some of the tracks in greater detail. “Lot and his wife escaped, but she turned around to look at the destruction behind her and was turned into a pillar of salt, according to biblical tales. That brought up the inevitable comparison with someone turning to face a 2,000-foot air burst above Hiroshima. So I decided to write an analogous song based on the visitation of Little Boy, dropped by the air crew captain Paul Tibbets, son of Enola Gay Tibbets.” Check out that cool sound!

The title track is “about the polarization of opinion-making in contemporary society, largely through social media, but also through—quite rightly in a democratic world—freedom of speech, the right to express your opinion,” Anderson explained to Apple Music. “But these days that opinion reaches further and faster and in more forcible terms as a result of social media—and can be used in a way that is often very hurtful, very cruel, very socially divisive.” Here’s the official video – reminds me a bit of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

Shoshana Sleeping “is a slightly erotic observation of the human form, but in a respectful and hands-off kind of a way,” Anderson noted. “Hopefully you would get the impression in the lyrics that the person singing the song is already in some kind of a relationship with the person that he’s observing sleeping. In terms of biblical references, I read some verses from the Song of Solomon. In the original text, sometimes it takes on a pretty macho and unpleasant form—the biblical format is not terribly woke. Nonetheless, there are parts of the Song of Solomon which are very moving and spiritually generous.” Once again, an interesting official video.

Where Did Saturday Go? [this is also what I’m often asking myself once Monday hits – CMM] is one of the acoustic-focused tunes. “Again, it could be seen as a reference to waking up and not being able to remember what you did on a weekend,” Anderson said. “But there’s obviously the reference of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the Saturday following Good Friday—before Easter Sunday, the resurrection day. In this story, Saturday is very rarely mentioned. And in this 24-hour period you have to wonder what was happening in the minds of those followers of Jesus after his death but before his resurrection. But it’s never discussed to any degree in the Bible, so I’m just pondering that notion of a missing day in the narrative of Jesus.”

Let’s do one more: The closer The Fisherman of Ephesus. “In that particular song I do stay more closely to the biblical stories of what happened to the disciples of Jesus…And so the song is about guilt survival, something I know from talking to veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, who lost their buddies, and who were scarred for life as a result of surviving when others around them died. And that happens, obviously, in car crashes, plane crashes, and probably in terms of COVID mortalities…So guilt survival is applicable right across the board. And that’s essentially the message of the song.”

I’ve heard a good deal of Jethro Tull songs, including those that are on the great 1985 compilation Original Masters, which spans the band’s first nine albums. I’ve also listened to select records like Aqualung and Thick as a Brick. This certainly doesn’t make me a Tull expert. But based on what I’ve heard, I feel confident enough to say this new album really sounds like Tull, sometimes reminding me of Aqualung. And that’s not only because of that album’s biblical references, though I will add The Zealot Gene doesn’t have obvious gems like Hymn 43 or Locomotive Breath. Still, it’s a pretty solid record. If you dig Tull, I see no reason why you wouldn’t like it.

The Zealot Gene appears on Inside Out Music, a German independent label focused on progressive rock and progressive metal. In addition to being available on streaming platforms, the album is offered in additional formats, including a special edition digipak CD, a gatefold 2LP+CD+LP-booklet, a limited 2CD+Blu-ray artbook and a limited deluxe 3LP+2CD+Blu-ray artbook.

Both artbook editions feature a second CD of demos and initial ideas, plus extended liner notes and an interview with Ian Anderson undertaken by Tim Bowness (no-man). Jeez – the days when artists simply issued their new albums on vinyl are definitely over!

Sources: Wikipedia; Jethro Tull website; Apple Music; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

My Top Singles Turning 50

A final look at 1971, one of the most exciting years in music

As 2021 is drawing to a close, I decided to revisit 1971 one more time. With releases, such as Who’s Next (The Who), Tapestry (Carole King), Led Zeppelin IV (Led Zeppelin), Sticky Fingers (The Rolling Stones) and Meddle (Pink Floyd), it truly was an extraordinary year in music. And let’s not forget At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band, perhaps the ultimate southern and blues-rock record, and certainly a strong contender for best live album ever.

I wrote about the above and other records in a three-part series back in April, which you can read here, here and here. What I didn’t do at the time was to look at singles that came out in 1971. I’ve put my favorites in a playlist at the end of this post. Following I’m highlighting 10 of them, focusing on songs I didn’t cover in the aforementioned three-part series.

Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On

I’d like to start this review with What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, released in January 1970. Co-written by him, Al Cleveland and Four Tops co-founding member Renaldo “Obie” Benson, this classic soul gem was inspired by an incident of police brutality Benson had witnessed in May 1969 while The Four Tops were visiting Berkely, Calif. The tune became Gaye’s first big U.S. hit in the ’70s, climbing to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Best Selling Soul Singles chart.

Deep Purple/Strange Kind of Woman

In February 1970, Deep Purple released Strange Kind of Woman as a non-album single. The follow-on to Black Night was credited to all members of the band: Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover and Ian Paice, their most compelling lineup, in my view. The song reached no. 8 in the UK and Germany, but didn’t chart in the U.S. The track was also included in the U.S. and Canadian editions of Deep Purple’s fifth studio album Fireball from July 1971 in lieu of Demon’s Eye on the UK edition.

Jethro Tull/Hymn 43

Hymn 43 is a great rock song by Jethro Tull. Penned by Ian Anderson, it appeared in late June 1971 as the second single off Aqualung, the group’s fourth studio album that had come out in March of the same year. Hymn 43 followed lead single Locomotive Breath. Incredibly, it only charted in Canada and the U.S., reaching an underwhelming no. 86 and no. 91, respectively.

T. Rex/Get It On

In July 1970, glam rockers T. Rex released one of their signature tunes, Get It On. In the U.S., it was re-titled Bang a Gong (Get It On), since there was a song with the same title by American jazz-rock band Chase. Get It On, written by T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan, was the lead single from the British band’s sophomore album Electric Warrior that appeared in September that year. Get It On became the band’s second no. 1 in the UK and their only U.S. top 10 hit (no. 10) on the Billboard Hot 100.

Santana/Everybody’s Everything

In September 1970, Santana released their third studio album Santana III and lead single Everybody’s Everything. The tune was co-written by Carlos Santana, Milton Brown and Tyrone Moss. The classic Santana rock song became the band’s last top 20 hit (no. 12) in the U.S. until the pop-oriented Winning from 1981.

Sly and the Family Stone/Family Affair

Family Affair is a track off Sly and the Family Stone’s fifth studio album There’s a Riot Goin’ On that came out in November 1971. Released the same month, the psychedelic funk tune was the first single from that album. It became the group’s third and final no. 1 hit in the U.S., topping both the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles chart.

Badfinger/Day After Day

Day After Day, first released in the U.S. in November 1971 followed by the UK in January 1972, became the biggest hit for British power pop-rock band Badfinger. Written by Pete Ham, the tune, off their third studio album Straight Up from December 1971, climbed to no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached no. 10 in the UK. In Canada, it went all the way to no. 2. This gem was produced by George Harrison who also played slide guitar along with Ham.

Elton John/Levon

Levon is one of Elton John’s beautiful early songs that first appeared on his fourth studio album Madman Across the Water from early November 1970. Composed by John with lyrics by Bernie Taupin, the ballad also became the record’s first single in late November. Producer Gus Dudgeon has said Taupin’s lyrics were inspired by Levon Helm, co-founder, drummer and singer of The Band, a favorite group of John and Taupin at the time. Levon reached no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed to no. 6 in Canada.

The Beach Boys/Surf’s Up

Various music connoisseurs have told me their favorite album by The Beach Boys is Surf’s Up from late August 1971. I can’t say it’s been love at first sight for me, but this record is definitely growing on me. The Beach Boys released the title track as a single in late November that year. Co-written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, Surf’s Up originally was supposed to be a track for Smile, an unfinished album that was scrapped in 1967. Brian and Carl Wilson completed the tune. By the time Surf’s Up was released as a single, the last major hit by The Beach Boys Good Vibrations was five years in the past. While the single didn’t chart, the album reached no. 29 on the Billboard 200, their highest-charting record in the U.S. since Wild Honey from 1967.

The Kinks/20th Century Man

The last song I’d like to call out is 20th Century Man by The Kinks. Penned by Ray Davies, the tune in December 1970 became the sole single off the group’s 10th studio album Muswell Hillbillies. The record had appeared in late November that year. 20th Century Man stalled at no. 106 in the UK and reached no. 89 in Australia. It didn’t chart in the U.S. The album didn’t fare much better, though it received positive reviews and remains a favorite among fans.

Check out the playlist below for additional 1971 singles I dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Great Songs For the Train

Music can also be fun on the train

Hotfox63, who is writing an excellent music blog, saw my previous post about songs for the road. He commended me for the compilation and – I assume jokingly – added he’s now waiting for the best train songs. While I found it much easier to create a playlist for the car, I thought it would actually be fun putting together a compilation of train-related tunes.

I’m not sure these are the best train songs, but I suppose the list below at least is a start. Since Hotfox63 lives in Europe, I figured there is a chance he might ride with the Bundesbahn. The federal railways of each Austria, Germany and Switzerland are called Bundesbahn. As such, I felt it was appropriate to include Der Bundesbahn-Blues, a cabaret song about the Austrian Federal Railways.

Now, don’t ask me about a plane or a ship list!:-)

People Get Ready/The Impressions (People Get Ready, 1965)

Locomotive Breath/Jethro Tull (Aqualung, 1971)

Peace Train/Cat Stevens (Teaser And the Firecat, 1971)

Long Train Runnin’/The Doobie Brothers (The Captain And Me, 1972)

The City of New Orleans/Arlo Guthrie (Hobo’s Lullaby, 1972)

Love Train/O’Jays (Back Stabbers, 1972)

Midnight Train to Georgia/Gladys Knight & The Pips (Imagination, 1973)

Train in the Distance/Paul Simon (Hearts and Bones, 1983)

Last Train/Mavis Staples (You Are Not Alone, 2010)

Der Bundesbahn Blues/Helmut Qualtinger (Schallplattl Vor’m Mund, 1956)

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube