Now I have to tell you, when I first saw this album listed on the Jethro Tull Web site I did a double take. I read it like this: “The JETHRO TULL CHRISTMAS???? album?” I was not the only surprised person though. Ian Anderson relates in his liner notes the following tale. “Two days before Christmas 2000, I received an e-mail from Fuel 2000 record company boss Len Fico suggesting the improbable scenario of a dedicated Tull Christmas album for the following year. Although taken aback for a moment, I remembered half-formed plans from some years ago for a Christmas-related set of tunes and so quickly offered, ‘Give me 24 hours and I’ll come back to you with a track list and running order.’And I did…” He goes on to give some details about the recording and to suggest that “if you liked “Bouree” and the Songs From the Wood record, you will love [this album].”
He’s probably right. The Tull Band this go-round features Martin Barre on guitars, Doane Perry on percussion and drums, Andrew Giddings on keyboards and accordion, and Jonathan Noyce on bass. Ian Anderson sings and plays mandolin, acoustic guitar, piccolo and, of course flute (perched on one leg, as always!) The songs are, for the most part, original pieces which carry a traditional framework, and offer lyrics which comment on the realities of modern life, and how our expectations for the Christmas season might be somewhat skewed. Read “Birthday Card at Christmas” for a sample of what I mean.
Got a birthday card at Christmas; it made me think of Jesus Christ.
It said, “I love you,” in small letters. I simply had to read it twice.
Wood smoke curled from blackened chimneys. The smell of frost was in the air.
Pole star hovered in the blackness, I looked again it wasn’t there.
People have showered me with presents.
While their minds were fixed on other things.
Sleigh bells, bearded red-suited uncles, Pointy trees and angel wings.
I am the shadow in your Christmas, I am the corner of your smile.
Perfunctory in celebration, you offer content but no style.
That little baby Jesus; he got a birthday card or three.
Gold trinkets and cheap frankincense. Some penny baubles for his tree.
have some time off for good behaviour. Forty days give or take a few.
hey there sweet baby Jesus–let’s share a birthday card with you.
Not really a traditional message, but the music makes it feel authentic. This song is followed by an instrumental treatment of “The Holly and the Ivy” combined with “Hark the Herald Angels” under the title “Holly Herald.” It’s a charming, Tullish romp with melodies from both classics linked by Anderson’s imaginative flute playing. Melodies from classic Christmas songs appear throughout the album giving the new songs added resonance by tying them to the past.
“A Christmas Song” begins familiarly enough and then…
Once in Royal David’s City, stood a lowly cattle shed,
where a mother laid her baby.
You’d do well to remember the things He later said.
When you’re stuffing yourselves at the Christmas parties,
you’ll laugh when I tell you to take a running jump.
You’re missing the point I’m sure does not need making;
that Christmas spirit is not what you drink.
So how can you laugh when your own mother’s hungry
and how can you smile when the reasons for smiling are wrong?
and if I’ve just messed up your thoughtless pleasures,
remember, if you wish, this is just a Christmas song.
This is, then, a warning album. Anderson is telling us to remember the REAL meaning of Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Prince of Peace. And how much peace exists in today’s world? How far have we come since that day 2000 years ago in Bethlehem? It’s just not the Roman Empire trying to run the world.
These kind of messages recur throughout the album. Anderson’s point of view is clear. And he’s consistent. He has been as careful and thoughtful with his own investments as he expects the rest of us to be. “Another Christmas Song,” “Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow,” “Last Man at the Party,” “First Snow on Brooklyn.” The tone continues. The lyrics repeat their warnings, and continue the call for careful celebration, and thoughtful living in the world. The songs are interspersed with instrumentals, again based on traditional seasonal songs. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Pavanne,” and “Greensleeved” (Anderson’s interpretation of “Greensleeves”). The music is classic Tull, solid rock, with Celtic and classical flourishes. Special guests include Dave Pegg, and the Sturez String Quartet.
It’s quite wonderful actually. The sound is beautiful, the mood seasonal, and the message timely. Not your everyday album but after all … it’s The Jethro Tull Christmas Album … you were expecting Bing Crosby?
(Fuel 2000 Records, 2003)