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Jethro Tull
The String Quartets

At 69, is Ian Anderson to old to rock ‘n’ roll?

Not likely.

But that didn’t stop the Jethro Tull frontman from recasting his band’s songs as classical pieces with revised titles such as “Farm, the Fourway (Farm on the Highway)” and “Pass the Bottle (A Christmas Song)” on Jethro Tull – The String Quartets. It’s a Tull album in name and songs only, as Anderson is the only band member who appears and guitar, bass, drums and keys are replaced by two violins, a viola and a cello; flute, however, remains front and center.

It’s a proposition that could go either way and the concept frankly does sound bit a silly at first, particularly because of the new titles. But don’t let the idea scare you away before hearing the music.

Performed by the Carducci Quartet, conducted by John O’Hara (who pitches in on celesta and piano), and featuring Anderson on flute, acoustic guitar and mandolin, plus vocals on a handful of the 12 tracks, The String Quartets is an engrossing listen from the opening instrumental “In the Past (Living in the Past)“ to the closing “Aquafugue (Aqualung),” which includes some of the lyrics from the original. Coincidentally, these musical brackets represent the record’s strongest and weakest reinterpretations, respectively.

Anderson sounds like himself throughout, his unique flute playing and singing voice immediately identifiable, as the quartet accompanies him in concert-hall – as opposed to arena – fashion. Sans vocals, “Bungle (Bungle in the Jungle)” would fit in nicely at a performance by your local symphony, while “Ring Out These Bells (Ring Out Solstice Bells),” which hews closely to the original, wouldn’t sound out of place at a full-band Jethro Tull concert, given that band’s long-running penchant for mixing classical melodies with elements of progressive, hard rock.

It’s not without a couple of dead spots, but as classical classic rock goes, Jethro Tull – The String Quartets is artfully done and impeccably executed. And it just might bridge a generation gap or two as it entertains music lovers of all tastes and all ages.

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