Jethro Tull

The Originals

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While audiophile editions of Thick as a Brick, Aqualung, Living in the Past, and A Passion Play are easily obtainable, Tull's very earliest albums have languished in substandard editions on CD for ten years. This triple-CD box from England, part of EMI's 100th Anniversary reissue series, rectifies the problem, featuring newly remastered versions of This Was, Stand Up, and Benefit, each packaged in a miniature re-creation of the original LP sleeve (including the pop-up figures in Stand Up), and all priced at around $11 a disc. That's not a bad deal when one takes into account that nobody inthe U.S. even thinks of remastering This Was, the group's least pretentious and bluesiest album, and the one least dominated by Ian Anderson. These reissues are first-rate, quieter, smoother, and richer in sound. Mick Abrahams' guitar on "Serenade to a Cuckoo" glistens, while Clive Bunker's percussion on "Dharma for One" (containing maybe the only non-boring drum solo in progressive rock that wasn't played by Bill Bruford) is startling in its bright closeness, and Glenn Cornick's bass is sharp and rich throughout. "Cat's Squirrel" is an even better showcase for Abrahams now than it was originally -- his guitar is so loud, crisp and up front that he's really in Eric Clapton territory here, and the new mastering enhances the crispness. Stand Up, where Anderson takes control of the band's sound and turns it toward a less formulaic mix of blues, rock, and folk (with mandolin added to the band's sound), is comparable to the old Mobile Fidelity Ultradisc -- Mobile Fidelity's may have a very, very slightly weightier sound, but the new EMI's is better balanced and, as a result, had greater clarity. Benefit, where the folk influence in the group's sound becomes more pronounced along with the progressive elements inherent in extended solos, is the equal to the others, rich-toned, high-volume and very, very crisp -- Martin Barre's guitar, in particular, on "With You There to Help Me" and "Nothing to Say" has an almost palpably crunchy texture, yet neither the details of Anderson's swirling, psychedelic flute accompaniment on the former, nor the overall lyricism of the latter, is sacrificed. The only drawback to be found, ironically enough, is in the artwork on This Was -- in re-creating the original jackets as a miniature gatefold sleeve, the reduction of size in the lettering of credits and song titles has resulted in a lack of clarity that is sure to annoy some people. Some new notes on the recording of each album and the band's history during this era would also have been nice, especially since these three albums comprise the development of the Jethro Tull sound as it became known to millions of listeners. But short of yet a newer 20-bit remastering, this set is the best way to hear these early Tull sides.

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