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Jethro Tull

Rock Island

Review by Gary Hill

This album from Jethro Tull was released in 1989. They were full into the harder rocking, more mainstream period of the act. That said, there are still plenty of proggy moments, and several songs that land under full prog. Ian Anderson is in fine form, but so is the whole band. This might not be the most progressive rock based thing they ever did, but it is an effective set with some strong music.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Kissing Willie
A hard rocking tune, this has some killer guitar work. The lyrics have an angry tone, and the energy of the number really matches it. This is a powerhouse that makes for a great opener.
The Rattlesnake Trail
This number also comes in with a hard rocking guitar based sound. Anderson's flute really drives some cool melodies in the mix.
Ears of Tin
A mellower tune, there is a lot of old world music built into the arrangement on the early parts here. The cut powers out after a bit to a more rocking section, but that's short-lived, giving way to a return of the mellower stuff. It does shifts back to more rocking zones later, and that time it stays around. This really becomes quite a driving tune. I love the interplay between the guitar and the flute on the piece. 
Undressed To Kill
This is a pretty standard mid-tempo Tull rocker. It has a good mix between more rocking stuff and the mellower zone. The jam that takes over as the song approaches its end brings more of the pure prog. Still, it's of the Tull hard rocking variety. That takes the piece to the fade down that eventually ends it.
Rock Island
Keyboard textures lead this out of the gate. Anderson's flute emerges in the mix, followed by his voice. Some guitar fills lend some magic to the mix. There are more powered up, hard-edged sections built into this, but there are balanced by the mellower ones. The mid-track instrumental section brings the prog into play with style and power.
Heavy Water
Guitar and the flute work well together in a mellower arrangement as this starts. It cranks out to a powerhouse jam from there. This is pretty typical of that period of Tull, but it is a strong tune with a catchy hook.
Another Christmas Song
Coming in with a mellower arrangement, I have previously reviewed this song as it appears on the Jethro Tull Christmas Album. Here's what I said about it there. This one is rather balladic and feels quite a bit like "Budapest" from Crest of A Knave. I'd say that review fits.
The Whaler's Dues
This comes in kind of tentatively with some serious drama. As it builds out we get a cool guitar fill that gets punctuated by some of Anderson's trademark flute. The introduction continues to evolve for a short time. Then it drops way down and starts to move outward with a measured sort of movement. The cut works out from there to sort of a powered up ballad approach for the entrance of the vocals. This is a decidedly progressive rock based thing that's among the highlights of the set for me. It's not an obvious choice because it doesn't have a chorus hook that grabs you right away, but it's a meatier piece than a lot of the rest of the stuff here. It has a lot more to offer, packed full of unusual shifts and changes.
Big Riff And Mando
Here is another that has a bit more of a diverse arrangement. It makes good use of the balance between mellower and more rocking sounds. This is definitely one of the more purely prog portions of the album.
Strange Avenues
Some odd mellow textures punctuated by blasts of flute open this piece. This cut is a mellower one. It's also a dynamic one that's among the proggier stuff of the disc. There is a strange element to the piece, too.

 

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