Musical surprise of the week: The Jethro Tull Christmas Album.

As uncool as it is in certain circles to admit it, I’m a long-time, nearly life-time, fan of Jethro Tull. After Steely Dan, they were my first obsessive musical love in the mid-’70s, and one of the first musically-related pieces of journalism that I ever published was a Tull career retrospective article in the “Teen Corner” column that I wrote for the Mitchel Field weekly paper when I was 13 or 14 or so. I have seen Tull (or Ian Anderson, solo) in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s, and enjoyed the experience each and every time.

I’ve found the current reasonably long-standing line-up (Anderson, Martin Barre, Andrew Giddings, Jonathan Noyce and Doane Perry) to be quite stupendous live (better, by far, than some of the ’80s line-ups I saw with chunks of Fairport Convention in the band), but their recorded output has been, methingks, a bit on the spotty side, and a bit too middle-of-the-road folk-flavored rock for my tastes.

Christmas Album, on the other hand, plays to their strengths in great ways: lots of spry acoustic numbers with Anderson’s flute and Barre’s guitar front and center where they belong, Anderson’s voice sounding better than it has in years, some strong new songs, some classic old songs given stellar new spins, and a few instrumental chestnuts of the season for good measure. All together, a fine holiday album, and one that you can listen to any time of the year.

Interestingly, the album was recorded from afar, with tapes going hither to yon and back for various members to record their various parts, and on no song does the full current quintet all appear at the same time. Old bassist Dave Pegg (of the Fairport Tull/Jethro Convention era) makes a couple of guest appearances, and James Duncan (who just happens to be Anderson’s son in his spare time) plays a lot of the drums in Perry’s stead. Still: it’s nice to get such a nice album so deep into these guys’ career, and it really reminds me why I have liked them so much for so long.

I’m bummed, though, that I replaced my vinyl with CDs a couple of years ago, only to have them reissuing remixed/restored copies of the classic albums now with lotsa bonus tracks. Dagnabbit.

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