(CALLIANDRA RECORDS/KSCOPE MUSIC; 2014)
Like that dotty old aunt that just refuses to go away, since the apparent demise of Jethro Tull, the band he’s fronted since 1967, our Mister Anderson has been a very busy lad (and clever, as well), releasing two albums in less than two years and launching at least a pair of world tours with another currently underway (for full details, go here: jethrotull.com/tour-dates/). The first album, a sequel to Tull’s 1972 opus, THICK AS A BRICK, rather ingeniously titled THICK AS A BRICK 2 (or, for the acronymically advanced among us, TAAB2), prompted a solid round of touring, occasionally featuring a Jethro Tull Favorites set but – more often – a performance of the original TAAB album followed by the playing of TAAB2 (with an intermission between… our hero is, after all, no longer as spry a fellow as when this game was begun – but, then, who among us is?). The maestro absconded from the band he created with two then-current members, adding three new names to the credits section. This is the apt and able crew that toured with Ian on his most recent stage jaunts and who are here returned to the studio for the recording (and subsequent release) of HOMO ERRATICUS, a collection of tunes written by the man himself and the fictional wunderkind protagonist of the TAAB albums, Gerald Bostock.
Ian Anderson (publicity photo)
As our boy Ian (with a sparse few exceptions) was the primary songwriting force in his previous engagement, it is no surprise that – but for the name on the label – this HOMO ERRATICUS could, in fact, be another installment of the Tull canon. Don’t think of this statement as a condemnation; it isn’t, just an observation. Besides, writing with a fictional entity about a non-existent tome written by an equally non-existent historian seems to have endowed the “laird of the manor” with a renewed vigor for the process. There hasn’t been a Tull record this well thought out and featuring such a strong set of songs from bow to stern since CREST OF A KNAVE (for which, no doubt in an effort to prove the point, they won a Grammy for Best Heavy Metal Performance). So, the premise – and there’s always a premise – of this newest of Mister Anderson’s recorded output is this: After a trip to Mathew Bunter’s Old Library Bookshop in Linwell, Gerald Bostock comes across a dusty, unpublished manuscript, written by local amateur historian Ernest T Parritt. The book is entitled “Homo Britanicus Erraticus.” Two years prior to his demise (the Year of Our Lord, 1926), Mister Parritt, after a fall from his horse during a hunt, “awoke with the overwhelming conviction of having enjoyed past lives as historical characters: a pre-history nomadic neolithic settler(“Doggerland”), an Iron Age blacksmith (“Heavy Metals”), a Saxon invader (“Enter the Uninvited”), a Christian monk (“Puer Ferox Adventus”), a Seventeenth Century grammar school boy (“Meliora Sequamur”), turnpike innkeeper(“The Turnpike Inn”), one of Brunel’s railroad engineers (“The Engineer”), and even Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria (“The Pax Britannica”). These past lives are revealed through the first portion of the album, subtitled “CHRONICLES.” The endangered Parritt’s delusions also extended to his prophesying events yet to come (the second part, “PROPHECIES”) and the fanciful possibilities of future Parritt lives (part the third, “REVELATIONS”). The poet Bostock then took it upon himself to render this Parritt’s lives in a more lyrical fashion. As with his award-winning entry of 42 years previous, the work was introduced to our Ian, who then reworked Mister Bostock’s reworking, adding his own musical flourishes. And, now, the hue and cry is heard the world over (or, at the very least, throughout several large cities in the industrialized nations): “Well, yeah… but is it any good?”
Ian Anderson (Scott Hammond, David Goodier, Ryan O’Donnell, Ian Anderson, Florian Opahle, John O’Hara) (photo credit: Carl Glover)
Yes. Yes, it is good. There are several differing versions of the “Ian Anderson sound” (and, by extension, the “Jethro Tull” sound) and most are on display at various junctures, nestled cozily amongst the fifteen tracks here presented. Oddly enough, the Tull-like “Doggerland” also features a very Ken Hensley-an (he of Uriah Heep fame) heavy Hammond organ sound (provided by Tull ex-patriate, John O’Hara) that is not unwelcome. Mister Anderson’s proclivity for Scottish, English and Celtic folk melodies is highlighted on “Heavy Metals,” featuring the hammer and anvil as sole percussive instrument. Two late 1970s and early 1980s Tull offerings, STORMWATCH and A, are evoked on “Enter the Uninvited,” which features a rather lilting, if forceful rhythm. Though the tune is driven more by the keyboards, there are some very nice guitar flourishes (by the aptly titled Florian Opahle), a quite nifty bassline (by another Tull refugee, David Goodier) and, of course, the very essence of Tullitude, the Laird Master Anderson’s unique and masterful excursions on the flute. As befits the song’s title and this particluar imagined pre-life of Mister Parritt, the introduction to “Puer Ferox Adventus” has a very churchy feel, with mantric chants (the Monking around of the clerics, no doubt), leading to a remembrance by Brother Parritt before the song becomes a canticle with lyrics that recount the life of Christ as told in the Gospel of Luke. As a counter-balance to the lyrics, the music takes on a much harder edge. The piece is the longest on HOMO ERRATICUS – over seven minutes – and is a solemn, stately affair. If not the centerpiece of the album, it is certainly one of the best of a truly grand offering from Mister Anderson and his musical conspirators. “Meliora Sequamur” continues the Psalmic bent of the previous number, though from a decidedly different point of view. The song is far more pastoral than the previous and introduces the pipe organ and a monastic choir to great effect. Highlighted by a more powerful presence of both organ and bass, “The Turnpike Inn” also features an inventive guitar signature running throughout. There is also a very nice flute chart and just a hint of accordion bleeding through toward the end of the piece. The subject matter (Parritt, the Engine Driver) of “The Engineer” demands and receives a heavier, virtually metallic sounding guitar part over what is, essentially, a Celtic folk tune. The dichotomy, which should be quite jarring, is actually an asset. The final piece of “CHRONICLES” is one of those Ian Anderson specialties, where our man Ian experiments with the number of syllables that can be comfortably fit into a standard four bar blues. Bassist Goodier and percussionist Scott Hammond drive “The Pax Britannica,” with minimal obstruction from other instrumentation, outside the Laird’s flute and rather unobtrusive work from Opahle’s guitar and O’Hara’s keyboards. Lurking somewhere around the edges, I’m sure, is the vocalist Ryan O’Donnell.
Ian Anderson (Ryan O’Donnell, David Goodier, Scott Hammond, Ian Anderson, John O’Hara, Florian Opahle) (photo credit: ALEX PAVLOU)
The next three numbers encompass Parritt’s “PROPHECIES,” beginning with “Tripudium Ad Bellum,” an instrumental that is very reminiscent of the early (as in, Mick Abrahams early) progressive Blues of Jethro Tull. There is a certain jazzy feel to the near-apocalyptic proceedings as England (and, indeed, the world) is off to war, with the improvisational bon vivant himself, Ian, providing the lead instrument via the flute. “After These Wars” is an extension of the previous song, featuring many of the same musical themes. The setting is now a post World War II England, where the rebuilding of a continent has seen many a miraculous discovery (including television). The number has the lilt and bent of a folk song, but the muscular bass work and power-chording guitar (and subsequent solo) belie that folkiness. Skipping ahead ten years or so, “New Blood, Old Veins” finds a more stable, more adventurous England spreading wings and taking flight to discover the world about them, while inextricably moving toward a new “English Invasion” spearheaded by four fabulous minstrels, Liverpudlians by birth. Again, the themes of “Tripudium Ad Bellum” repeats here, with the jazzier aspects of Mister Anderson’s flute; the new elements introduced in “After These Wars” are also present, with forceful guitar work and a powerful rhythm section, highlighted by a slightly menacing organ. Whatever his presumed mental status, this imagined Parritt fairly well hit a nail or two rather solidly with his “PROPHECIES.”
Ian Anderson (seated: David Goodier, Ian Anderson, Florian Opahle; standing: Scott Hammond, Ryan O’Donnell, John O’Hara) (photo credit: CARL GLOVER)
As far as Parritt’s “REVELATIONS” go, the first two seem to be spot on, as they depict “future” occurrences from 2013 and 2014. For a gentleman that never existed, his fictional fortune-telling was on a par with Nostradamus or HG Wells. “In For a Pound” is, one supposes, the love story of HOMO ERRATICUS; it’s all our man, Ian, performing vocally and joining himself on the acoustic guitar with everything fitting in rather nicely at just over half a minute (proving, in fact, that love is fleeting). The problem of ever-widening urban sprawl amid growing societal and economic discord is addressed in “The Browning of the Green.” As more and more city-dwellers seek to “get back to the country,” they unfortunately drag all of the “comforts of home” with them, despoiling every acre of the idyllic rural landscape. The music has an edginess about it, not quite heavy metal but definitely leaning in that direction. Looking into our future another ten years, Parritt has a message from the stars: “We don’t like your kind ’round here, Earthman!” The spoken word piece is called “Per Errationes Ad Astra.” The final of Parritt’s “REVELATIONS” and the final musical offering is called “Cold Dead Reckoning.” The song leaps ahead another twenty years (to the year 2044) and foretells of the ultimate demise of the crumbling society of man and an eventual rebirth of humanity and spirituality, all to a pounding beat. About ten years ago (uh… from present day… that would be 2004), there was a television series called THE 4400, a science-fiction tale with very similar aspects to “Cold Dead Reckoning.” I mention this not only because of the similarities in theme, but also because, somehow, the melody of the song reminds me of the series’ theme song. Coincidence or… did our nonexistent Parritt have something to do with it? As he’s been gone these 86 years (longer, if you consider his fabricated existence), we may never know. The only certainty regarding his writings and the reworking there-of by the equally mythical Gerald Bostock – and by extension, their collaboration with Ian Anderson and his musical minions (who, I am told, are quite real) – they most assuredly make for an enjoyable listen! In fact, this HOMO ERRATICUS is the best music to come from the Ian Anderson/Jethro Tull camp since CATFISH RISING, more than 20 years ago. (There are several versions of HOMO ERRATICUS to choose from: a standard CD version, a CD/DVD version, a 2-CD/2-DVD version with a hardback book, a downloadable version at iTunes, and a double set of glorious vinyl… choose wisely! Going here: www.kscopemusic.com/ can help.)