Jethro Tull – Benefit (50th Anniversary enhanced edition): Album Review

The benchmark series of Jethro Tull enhanced reissues continues with their third album Benefit.

jethro tull

Release date: Out now

Label: Rhino

Format: 4CD/2DVD/Hardbook cover

While Ian Anderson or what passes for the current incarnation of Jethro Tull (what’s in a name eh?) prepares their first release for many a day in The Zealot Game, we push aside any twenty-first-century confusion to look back. Look back to the days of 1970 when things were much simpler, although inevitable starting to get complex. The days when Jethro Tull was recording their third album; when Martin Barre was bedded in as lead guitarist and when John Evans came on board to make a significant contribution. Listen to his fizzing keyboard work on Nothing Is Easy from the 1970 Tanglewood gig which is one of the live archives from the period included with a Steven Wilson stereo remix.

There’s the argument that Benefit is an underrated album, sitting as it does between the excellent Stand Up that provided the ‘new’ Tull template after the blues-orientated debut and of course the landmark of Aqualung that followed. The latter being the epitome of the misunderstood concept album, inspiring (if that’s the right word) Tull into delivering the mothers of all concepts in subsequent release. But that was all to come. I

Back to the script, a cursory glance at the Benefit tracklist reveals no major numbers although several have peppered the live set over the years. There’s also no denying that the most memorable, or at least recognisable numbers from the period are non-album cuts. Teacher and The Witch’s Promise (who could forget Anderson gyrating about and leering at the camera on Top Of The Pops for the latter) the guilty parties.

Listening back to the ten pieces which make up the original release reinforces the significance of the acoustic side of Jethro Tull. Any semblance or references to the jazzy blues of This Was are few and far between. The powerful march on Son perhaps the main indicator of how Tull would be embraced by some of the Heavy Rock brigade in the not too distant future as they incorporated threads of several genres in a flute led blend. Steven Wilson’s stereo remix from 2013 stands as one which seemingly needs no further tweaks with a lovely clarity, particularly on the less busy arrangements such as Sossity; You’re A Woman.

What’s interesting is Martin Webb’s interviews with Anderson, Barre, Cornick and Bunker as each gives their opinions in the booklet. Without wanting to spoil the surprise(s), those opinions vary massively – “one of my worst songs of all time” / “we had a bit of fun doing this” / “another horrible one” / “I like this one” is how the quartet all describe just one of the associated tracks!

There’s a real trove of material beyond what actually appeared on two sides of vinyl as Benefit. The ‘associated recordings’ stretch into UK and US single versions, mono and stereo single mixes and compilation album remixes. Quite bewildering to see so many options to listen to, for example, Sweet Dream, or the five versions of Teacher and four of The Witch’s Promise on Disc two – although interesting to experience the separation of the stereo single versions and compare the UK?US versions where a distinct clarity distinction emerges. One for the Tull scholars methinks.

Meanwhile, 17 was another classy non-album track that only Clive Bunker and I seem to like, appearing on the b-side of Sweet Dream and on later versions of the remastered Stand Up album, tying it with that period. One that it’s nice to be reacquainted with. And we get a whiff of Aqualung with an early version of My God. Perhaps both provide neat little links to the past and the future.

And so to the extras – the Tanglewood 1970 show is dominated by some rather lengthy solo excursions for each member of the band – par for the course in a Seventies rock show – testing the endurance. Anderson himself pleads guilty to the fact in one of the interviews in the accompanying notes. Amidst the meanderings, there are some fine and dynamic moment: Dharma For One fo starters fizzes with fire and passion and again the impact of John Evans is unavoidably evident.

Tanglewood is also on video, and as you’d expect is very much a sign of the times being a pretty fair reflection of concerts in 1970 whilst also offering a chance to marvel at some vintage sartorial elegance in Glenn Cornick’s pink polka dot flares. As far as historical documents go, being fifty years old and all, it’s quite a piece, with Anderson already very well advanced in his stage persona.

There’s also a disc of the 1970 Chicago concert in the form of a mono mix from front of house engineer John Burns. Starting off with a “very very old song” (!!) from the first album, it’s a much more upfront and lively recording. Like a decent bootleg if you will – and interesting to see Wolfgang’s Vault acknowledged for the Tanglewood recording… A slightly broader selection than Tanglewood with To Cry You A Song one of the new songs that bursts forth spectacularly with the same energy as the more familiar Nothing Is Easy that follows later. Occasional parts that sound very Zep-like – the riffing on We used To Know and a Plant-y/psych wig-out section on Dharma For One.

Granted, there are already a number of official 1970 Tull live performances on the market as well as numerous quality unofficial sources. A semi-official version of Chicago exists form a ‘radio broadcast’ while the Isle Of Wight perfromance gets picked apart and their gig at Carnegie Hall proving a fertile period for analysing a year when Tull hardly let up – as evidenced in the 1970 diary of events. Even doing two shows a day at several of the venues on the UK tour…

And so, Steven Wilson’s admirable efforts with the Tull catalogue continue and adding to the musical treasures is a 100 page booklet with all manner of similar excellence. Kicking off with Martin Webb (who always writes a good read) and his most thorough ‘revised and expanded from 2013’ exploration of the period, as well as his piece with ‘executive producer’ Terry Ellis, there’s a track-by-track series of comments from band members and notes from Joshua White who was responsible for the Tanglewood footage. All very enlightening and as we’re becoming accustomed to, an essential part of the enhanced Tull packages.

A perfect chance to share your thoughts with Ian Anderson & Co whilst re-evaluating and appreciating not just Benefit but the 1970 period of Jethro Tull.

Here’s the opening cut from Benefit – With You There To Help Me:

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