In English roots to branches signifies something radical. Therefore it is not surprising that in 1995 Jethro Tull fans feared the end of their favorite band when it was announced that the new album would be titled “Roots To Branches”. It quickly became clear that there was nothing to worry about. Ian Anderson and company were highly inspired at that time and had no intention of throwing in the towel. But let’s get back to “Roots To Branches”. The band’s great inspiration came from touring extensively in India the year before. As a result much of the typical English folk was exchanged for a wealth of Eastern influences. This makes “Roots To Branches” a unique album in the band’s discography a strange but incredibly enjoyable addition. I dare say that Jethro Tull has not sounded as convincing since the 1970s as they do here.
The album can be described in one word: steamy. Anderson’s melodic flute playing and his earthy voice, Andrew Giddings’ orchestral keyboards and Martin Barre’s fiery guitar playing have given the music a warm, slightly humid atmosphere as if the recordings took place in a high-humidity room. Add to that the sizzling rhythms of drums, bass guitar and ample percussion, the sultriness is complete. Yet it is precisely that same flute that provides the necessary ventilation making “Roots To Branches” an album in which you willingly immerse yourself.
It starts off strong with the flute in the first few seconds of the opening title track. It’s as if Anderson presents himself as a guide taking the listener on a tour of the album’s exotic landscape. Anderson takes you everywhere. But then…
In his familiar style, he sings about issues such as the lives of children roaming the streets of Bombay as prostitutes and the oppression of Muslim women. He also depicts street scenes from the Third World. In the meanwhile the music effortlessly evokes images of belly dancers, mystical veils and various other splendors as heard in the exhilarating Rare And Precious Chain or Dangerous Veils. This duality is characteristic of this album, but actually applies to Jethro Tull’s entire body of work. It all seems a lot less dark than it actually is. Careful thought has gone into it.
Cunningly, the band introduces jazz-rock-tinged passages here and there and they occasionally raise the level of virtuosity significantly. The finales of Dangerous Veils, Wounded Old And Treacherous can be considered highlights of the album. This approach provides pleasant variation and apart from that, there are also two introspective songs: Beside Myself and the graceful At Last Forever. In those moments Ian Anderson’s vocals most resemble his earlier years. He no longer possesses the true melodic finesse often resorting to a sort of spoken-singing reminiscent of Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. Nevertheless he sounds exceptionally pleasant as evident in the closing track Another Harry’s Bar which speaks volumes. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you cannot ignore this comparison. It is worth noting that the song lacks any Eastern influences yet seamlessly fits with the rest. In essence Anderson and company leave their Eastern adventure behind in this song and ensure that anything is possible in the future.
© Dick van der Heijde 2023