Annotations


~ Roots To Branches ~

(1)

An introduction to
"Roots To Branches"

The year 1995 saw the release of one of the best and most innovative albums since "Under Wraps": "Roots To Branches". The album, though sounding familiar being a Tull album, was nothing like the band had ever done before. It is in my opinion the richest and most mature album the band ever released, should be considered already as one of the classics and those who might have considered the "25 year box set" as a farewell present were proven to be wrong: Jethro Tull is still "there". One gets the impression as if all the albums made before were all building stones that eventually led to the conception of this one. In "Roots To Branches" it all comes together: integrated, well-balanced, well-arranged.

Photograph taken during the Roots To Branches tour in 1995,
exact location and date remain unknown. By courtesy of
Kevan D. Shaw

The maturity and the "full flavour"of the album is due to several features that interact. First of all it contains 11 songs, all different in mood and tempi, phrasing, melody lines and use of instruments. Jazz-lovers will undoubtedly notice the revisited gentle change-ups that features the early seventies albums. Once again Ian shows his versatility as a musician.
Secondly, a new feature is introduced: most of the songs contain elements derived from the music from the Arab countries. A fine example is the song "Rare And Precious Chain" that tends to be experienced as an Arab song in a rock setting! Not only do these ethnic influences make Jethro Tull sound like they never did before, they also intrigue the listener, thus making this album into a listening adventure. Furthermore: Ian's flute-playing is superb, very intense and creative, perhaps because he trained himself in applying the appropreate fingering while preparing for the "Divinities" album, incited in those days to do so by his daughter Gael who was leaning to play the flute at school. He takes the instrument almost beyond its technical limitations, thus enabling him to express whatever he wants to. The song "Valley" shows us Ian at his best in this respect.
A third important factor for the success of "Roots To Branches" and the subsequent tour is that the musicians really come together as a band. The delicacy and originality that features the way the web of each song is woven displays their professionality. (A studio bassist named Steve Bailey played on most of the tracks. Dave Pegg handled "Out of the Noise", "Dangerous Veils" and "Another Harry's Bar" Ian used a keyboard bass on "This Free Will" and "Rare and Precious Chain". Jonathan joined the band just before the tour started.)
And last but not least: the lyrics to the songs of this album are subtle, warm and phrased beautifully, showing a maturity that equals the music itself. We will investigate this lyrics here below.

The overall mood of the album makes it like Benefit, Heavy Horses, Broadsword, and Rock Island before, one of the so-called "dark albums". Though not as commercial or accessible as most of their earlier albums both the album and the subsequent tours were quite successful.
* Jan Voorbij

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* Ian playing the acoustic guitar during the Roots to Branches tour, 1995.
(Courtesy:
Laufi)

Annotations

Roots To Branches

  • Several songs from the Aqualung album (1971) contain Ian's critique on organised religion, esp. institutions like the Church Of England. In this song Ian focusses on another side-effect of religion: namely, the phenomenon that the original concepts of the great prophets of religion ("roots") are deformed ("branches") and used for other purposes, sometimes even to an extent where they are completely opposing their original ideas:
    "Words get written. Words get twisted.
    Old meanings move in the drift of time."

    To stress this verse, Ian applies the well chosen image of statues weathering over time: "See gentle shadows change the features of the faces cut in unmoving stone".

  • In the second stanza we see how the "spokesmen" of these religions, the "home-spun fancy weavers and naked half-believers", do not just pass on the original ideas to the believers, but manipulate them, adding their own content and intentions to serve other - often political or economical - purposes.
    "True disciples carrying that message
    to colour just a little with their personal touch."

    This is how fanatism is born and cultivated, leading to intollerance and eventually hate, bloodshed and war:
    "Crusades and creeds descend like fiery flakes of snow."
    To be more specific: the originally tollerant and mild ideas of Jesus and Mohammed thus eventually led to Crusade and Jihad. Hence the verseline "Bad mouth on a prayer day, hope no one's listening"; in other words: let's hope no one listens to this blasphemous sermons that evoke intollerance.
    We should bear in mind that this song was written in December 1994, when war had been raging for over a decade in Yugoslavia; a war in which religion - in combination with ethnic differences - played a very dubious role.

  • Then, in the last stanza, when Ian focusses on the role of God, his humour is present in the verselines:
    "I hope the old man's got his face on.
    He'd better be some quick change artist": whether called Jahweh, God or Allah, He'd better quickly adapt to those who call on him and play the part they want Him to, since all these different religions claim Him to be on their side. Is he pittying God for His role here? Or is this stanza an implicit plea for more unified beliefs and tollerance? Or both perhaps?
    * Jan Voorbij

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Rare And Precious Chain

  • This song seems to be about love and commitment - and the responsability and understanding that must follow these through. The narrator dedicates it specifically to his loved one, to remind her of their relationship (the "rare and precious chain") and what it means to him. This "rare and precious chain" can only be called true love, because it is both rare and precious to each other's hearts. It is unescapable from, once two souls are binded ("shackled tight...", "...it all comes back to you"), but there are some aspects to consider in a relationship: their own faults and problems that get in the way ("[...] No excuses for the word-weary. No excuses for who I am. [...]"); it is, however, a couple's responsability to overcome these personal barriers, because the value of their love is too great ("It's a rare and precious chain. Around your neck I place it, place it once again."), which brings us to the beginning: understanding and warm tenderness. The song's atmosphere seems to reflect these factors, and it is really effective for that matter. The "forgotten rooms, dark catacombs" that the lyrics mention are, in my opinion, one's personal ghosts and inner troubled traumas - almost forgotten, but that surface every now and then. It is a couple's responsibilty to help each other overcome these problems, for "they all come back" to them. The verse/chorus tone variation seems to talk exactly about this: how these exterior problems tend to infiltrate on their own little world, and they sometimes fight over it ("No engagement rules, to leave you forsaken."), but cannot stop being who they are; they must accept it, for the sake of their love ("No excuses for who I am"). The "Rare and Precious Chain" seems to be an allegory: usually, gifts like rings and necklaces are offered between lovers, when they want to physically mark their love with earthly symbols. So, in a way, Ian tries to connect these symbols of promises and deep yearnings, with the feeling itself.
    * Alberto Ferreira

  • Ian's been known to pen a 'kinky' lyric now and then -- e.g. that little ditty about a whip-bearing Hunting Girl -- and Rare And Precious Chain can certainly be read the same way. The references to chains, red lights, tiny beads of sweat, diamond chokers, forgotten rooms and black catacombs, the pervasive imagery of binding and shackling, mingled with a sweet sort of pain ("love's bite"), topped off by the defiant "no excuses for who I am", all point rather strongly to an S&M subtext.
    * Steven Sullivan


  • Real Player video clip of
    "Rare And Precious Chain", performed live at NBC Night, November 1995. By kind permisson of Laufi.

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Out Of The Noise

  • A humorous song about the struggle for life of a dog in the city, as Ian explained on stage: "This is a piece of music about a little dog running across the road and not being run over by a very large truck. I was in a good mood the day I wrote that song. It could have been a different day. I might have written this song so he got ssswwwsssh, but he made it. It was a lucky day for that little dog".
    The verseline
    "Some towns I know, he could end up in a restaurant - wrong side of a table for two" refers to Asian countries were dogs are considered a delicatesse.
    As for the meaning of this song -- could it be allegorious for the rat race in modern western society?
    * Jan Voorbij

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This Free Will


Ian playing the baboo flute during the Roots to Branches tour, 1995.
(Courtesy:
Laufi)

Continuation

* Note: According to Greg Russo there were five more tracks recorded for "Roots To Branches", that didn't make it to the album.(G. Russo: "Flying Colours, the Jethro Tull reference manual", Floral Park, NY, 2000 ; p. 167, 256)

 


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Roots To Branches" annotations page 2

 

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Last modified: March 9 - 2001

Jan Voorbij (1998-2009)