The Secret Language of Birds is Ian Anderson's third solo album, but the first to specifically highlight his melodic skill and guitar prowess on a set of folk-inspired songs. His first solo album, 1983's Walk into Light, was marred by its full embrace of sterile '80s production in lieu of rusticity. While his second effort, 1995's Divinities, was a move in the right direction and a sonic precursor to the set at hand, it still was held back by its conscious decision to downplay Anderson's obvious acoustic heritage for a more classical bent. But sometimes the obvious is what works best, and Jethro Tull fans were pleased to learn that Anderson's third release finally embraced his classic sound. Just like Tull's excellent Roots to Branches, this one has a decided ethnic flair, running the gamut from Indian to Russian to Celtic. Even though the disc has several contributing musicians, it doesn't fall prey to the "too many cooks in the kitchen" syndrome that plagued many a latter-day Jethro Tull release. Instead, a very rich yet minimalistic sound is highlighted throughout, with Anderson's strong, almost-recovered voice and virtuoso mandolin/acoustic guitar work coming to the fore. The title track and "The Water Carrier" specifically recall such classics as "Fat Man," "Skating Away," and "Minstrel in the Gallery." Perhaps the best songs besides those two are "Sanctuary" and "Panama Freighter," both of which are mature yet quirky, the obvious fruits of Anderson's unique vision. Those are the highlights, but the whole album displays a consistency that even Jethro Tull rarely approached. There are even two bonus tracks not listed from a European TV broadcast. The Secret Language of Birds can be easily ranked among Anderson's best work, Tull or otherwise, and in many ways is the most impressive release of his career.
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AllMusic Review by Brian Downing