Yes, here we are once more folks with a round up of what's new in the TWR editorial department's CD player…
First up and cause for excitement as far as I am concerned, the first new Jethro Tull album in over twenty years! Yes, Mr Anderson has re-donned (is there such a word?) his alter ego and resumed the Jethro Tull moniker.
Ian Anderson's relationship with religion has not always been an easy one as evidenced by the outrage in the Bible Belt of the USA with the Aqualung album back in 1971. Well, he's treading that we'll trodden path again with this album. The Zealot Gene contains plenty of religious references and gets under way with Mrs Tibbetts which is a latter-day revisiting of the story of Lot and his fate as recast in today's nuclear age whilst Jacob's Tale reimagines the tale of sibling rivalry that was Cain and Abel. The story remains the same even if the wording is greatly different.
Mine Is The Mountain is perhaps the direct spiritual successor to My God from that pesky 1971 album I mentioned earlier, the one that got the band into so much trouble. A bleak and unforgiving look at the god that demanded children in sacrifice and much worse with today's extremists - the very zealots of the album title. The lines…
"I'm no pushover lamb, no gentle provider/Vengeance,Retribution are my middle names/I can make a cadavwr of your women, your firstborn with a snap of a finger, of salt and of flame…"
Pretty much set the stall out. This is no exercise in easy listening or cosy comfortable Sunday morning sermon here.
The album's title track; The Zealot Gene has, by many, been interpreted as a dig at dear old Mr Trump. Listen more carefully however and you will soon realise that Mr Anderson is far too canny for that. Instead we have a superbly, almost surgical evisceration of political extremes - Left AND Right - and the danger they represent. As the final line warns ..
"Beware, beware the Zealot Gene/Naked flame near gasoline…"
Shoshana Sleeping and Sad City Sisters evoke womanhood in all its glory ...and its sadness. The latter effectively portraying a group of female Aqualung characters; the kind you will find in any city on a night out, a sometimes scary but more often sad sight then as now.
Barren Beth,Wild Desert John is a modern examination of the character of John The Baptist the rebel preacher whose rantings made everyone - especially those in authority - uncomfortable whilst The Betrayal Of Joshua Kynde recalls the eventual betrayal of Jesus by Judas and asks the eternal question : why? Only Judas can answer that one!
Where Did Saturday Go? Oh I bet everyone has asked that question through the Sunday morning hangover - I know I have! Anderson expresses the sentiments so much more articulately than I.
The rest of the album is similarly thought provoking and draws modern day relevance to the Biblical stories we are all so familiar with. Who knows, once Mr Anderson finally hangs up his flute and codpiece another career as a vicar beckons perhaps? The wonder of this album is that despite its obvious religious references, it does not "preach" to us its audience, far from it but if it makes us think, then job well done - we need music that makes us think more than ever these days.
OK, Anderson's pipes aren't what they were - and whose would be after so long in the music business? Musically it is every bit as entertaining as anything Jethro Tull or Anderson have ever produced in their long history. What really matters is that here is one of Britain's premier sing writers with something important to say and no fear of saying it. The Zealot Gene will easily find a home among the classic Tull albums fans know and love - more please, Mr A!
Staying with Tull for a moment, we also have the latest in their superb remasters series to have a look at. This time we come to the criminally underrated third album, 1970's Benefit.
By the time this album was released Tull were set and made, having already been nominated second behind The Beatles in the annual music polls. This set documents that period with a wealth of material and as usual no effort has been spared to bring everything possible from the archives although surprisingly there are no previously unheard tracks here, apart from an early run through of My God which would eventually find a home on the seminal Aqualung album a year later.
Sonically too, this album has benefited (pun intended) from the superb work of Steven Wilson who has brought out much previously obscured detail in the mixes broadening the sonic palette and enormously. That doesn't mean that the project lacks interest, far from it! The gems this time round are the two previously unreleased live recordings especially the legendary Tanglewood performance which is available here in BOTH audio and video and is a joy to behold. Tull at their very best taking the audience by storm.
As usual, the set is accompanied by an extensive essay on the album and the period in which it was written by Tull aficionado Martin Webb with track commentaries by all of the members involved with the album. Fully illustrated with photographs and memorabilia making the end result another delight for any Tull fan.
Yes have also returned with a brand new studio album: The Quest. The current line up of Yes seems to have finally stabilised. If you are a Yes fan it really depends on whether you can accept the presence of Jon Davison or not. That argument is already an old one and will rumble on elsewhere but not here! Davison has made himself firmly at home as the front man of the band and he does a more than creditable job here on what is an album of typical Yes fare.
There are echoes of several previous Yes albums running through this one but the music is lush and clean. I guess my only criticism of it is that it somehow lacks the edge of the Yes of old. Nonetheless, it is still great to see the band creating music and I am sure that this album, like it's predecessors, will take on a life of its own in the live context and in that context, Yes are still a force to be reckoned with.
Back on the remasters trail for a moment. Marillion releaeed the final Fish era album from their back catalogue; 1984's Fugazi strangely appropriate for the times we live in righ now, eh? Marillion are the band most Genesis fans love to hate - this I understand but back in the day they were a foce to be reckoned with on the Prog scene as this reissue emphasises only too well.
Fugazi was that difficult second album and following up the outstanding success of their debut was always going to be hard but they managed to create an equally dramatic and impressive result here and once again the remastering process has brought out details obscured by the original production values although I admit I am not keen on the new ending to the title track!
The extras on this are what makes it particularly interesting to fans. Here we finally have a full live record (audio and video) of what the band were like on this tour - a tour I still have vivid memories of. The footage here is simply breathtaking and the accompanying documentaries on the album are both entertaining and informative and display a refreshing honesty from everyone involved. This one brings the Fish era of Marillion to a close and does so in marvellous style - a must for fans and collector's alike.
And finally in this roundup. Lockdown has provoked many artists to self produce albums, and one of those who has done so is Chas Cronk. Chas's name should be familiar to many of you as he was a member of Steve Hackett's band for several years and is also a stalwart of both The Strawbs and Rick Wakenan's band - talented chappie! Chas has finally put together his first solo album, the appropriately titled; Liberty.
The title track gets things off with a wholehearted rock 'n' roll celebration of regaining our "Liberty" after Lockdown and is a suitably enjoyable start to the album. Chas also shows his multi instrumentalist talents here and elsewhere with just about every instrument played by the man himself. Don't you just hate people this talented, eh? Vocally too this is a strong debut although anyone familiar with Chas's previous bands won't be surprised by this.
Take My Hand meanwhile exprsses the thoughts many of us have had when we reach a point of indecision in our lives; do we take the road less travelled? Some suitably ethereal keyboards and a heartbeat drum rhythm get things under way which for some reason remind me of The Cars' classic, Drive . Dunno why but I like it!
A Splash Of Blue features Chas's Strawbs cohort Dave Lambert on guitar; an incredible combination of talents on any day and here we have a truly delightful wistful song with some incredibly vivid imagery; almost a film for the ears this one and a theme tune for an as yet unwritten film I am sure. It simply has big screen written all over it and the interplay between Chas and Dave (no, not THAT Chas and Dave!) really gets under your skin with an instantly memorable melody.
Everybody Knows is one of those classic love songs with authentic chords and a lilting melody which you don't hear very often these days. Luscious melodies and a chorus to die for, this is a belter!
Into The Light features a superb Byrds like Spanish guitar riff that drags you in from the start. Once again, Chas's innate sense of melody is key here but there is drama as well - Calling All The Heroes writ large - a stadium rocker in the making!
Slipping Downstream is a slow, bluesy delight, a glass of chilled wine and a summer's day all rolled into one delightfully understated track. Once again, Chas is accompanied by another of his Strawbs cohorts; Dave Bainbridge and the result is a master class in melody.
Away and System Overload are both interconnected by the theme of getting away from the rat race and the demands that living in today's world places upon us - the liberty of the album's title seems all too hard to find.
Reverie closes the album with a soothing ethereal instrumental, a quiet resolution to proceedings, mission accomplished and liberty found? You decide.
This has been a solo debut a long time in the making but the wait has been well worth it. This is a superbly crafted album of music from a musician at the top of his game. If this is the debut, what else is to come? I for one can't wait to find out!