Jethro Tull

The 25th Anniversary Boxed Set

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Where the first Jethro Tull box five years earlier, 20 Years of Jethro Tull, mostly traded on radio broadcast performances and rarities, a few outtakes, and a remastered collection of key songs, 25th Anniversary Boxed Set benefits from a more thorough raid on the vaults that has yielded up one essential addition to any Jethro Tull collection. Disc two is the centerpiece of the set, containing an additional hour of the group's November 4, 1970 concert at Carnegie Hall in New York (two pieces were previously issued on Living in the Past). Preserved on a 16-track master tape, this benefit show for the drug rehabilitation program Phoenix House was the group's most prominent American gig up to that time. It's a good representation of what the band sounded like in its second incarnation, when they were still establishing themselves outside of England. The group had still not reached -- or even approached -- its progressive rock period, and the sound is very stripped down, a pounding mix of hard rock, acoustic folk music, jazz elements, and Ian Anderson's vocals, alternately sage-like and fierce; some of the flute acrobatics don't translate too well to tape, even in Carnegie Hall, but the transition from "Sossity, You're a Woman" into "Reasons for Waiting" -- featuring exquisite organ playing by John Evan -- is beautiful enough as to make up for the flaws elsewhere, as well as reminding listeners of one of the more hauntingly beautiful songs in the group's early repertory; they also unveil a song that was still, by Anderson's own account, a work-in-progress, entitled "My God." Disc one is comprised of 16 songs from across the group's history, from their single "My Sunday Feeling" in 1968 to "Broadsword" in 1982, all in remixed versions with some fresh nips and tucks by the engineers who generally make the music sound hotter and push the percussion and the guitar solos further into the foreground; those are interesting listening, but an audiophile hits collection of the original mixes would have been preferred. Disc three features the then-current lineup of the group in a live performance from 1992, documenting their latest approach to songs ranging across 24 years of their history -- they're professional and polished (and loud), but not as interesting as the original versions. Finally, Disc four is this set's companion to the 20th anniversary set's disc of radio performances, drawing from various additional radio appearances and other live venues -- opening with the loud, bluesy "To Be Sad Is a Mad Way to Be" (which is a definite throwback to the This Was album), the music advances across the decades, crossing the 1970s with a three-minute excerpt from A Passion Play into a medley of Aqualung material and on to their various 1980s incarnations and repertory, by which time Martin Barre is pretty much sharing the spotlight with (if not outright stealing it from) Anderson -- the most interesting moment is the "Passion Jig," an instrumental piece salvaged and adapted from part of A Passion Play, which is a clever way of reviving music from a concept album whose complete presence was no longer required. The entire package comes in a container designed to resemble a cigar box, with a profusely illustrated and annotated 46-page booklet. The only problem is that the box doesn't really stay shut with the catch that's installed on it, and the internal pockets holding the CDs are a bit shoddy, made of cardboard that is much too fragile and eventually broke or ripped on many copies.

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