I have been listening to Ian Anderson, the lead singer and flutist for the British rock group Jethro Tull, for a long time. The first song that I remember is “Aqualung,” which was unlike anything else on the radio at the time. Other than Canned Heat, who else featured rock flute? The lyrics of "Aqualung" were as bizarre as anything I had heard on later Beatles albums or the rock opera Tommy by the Who. I was hooked.
I was especially impressed when one of the instructors at the band camp that I attended at West Texas State University showed a music appreciation film featuring Anderson. The flutist stood alone in a studio, with his wild hair and intense eyes, like a stork with one leg up, playing bits of Bach and Beethoven. I was impressed.
More than thirty years later, Anderson is still performing and recording, which I discovered when browsing in the music department at Borders. Luckily for me, it was one of the stores with the music stations, where I was able to put on headphones, scan the label, and listen to songs from the CD. I was pleasantly surprised that Anderson’s music was as fresh and energetic as ever. I had heard some later Jethro Tull work that seemed a bit stale.
Anderson did depart from rock on his 1995 CD Divinities: Twelve Dances with God, which library cataloguing classifies as New Age. I think of New Age as having lots of atmospheric, electronic effects, but this CD is filled with dynamic flute supported by a small orchestra, playing melodies inspired by various world religions, evoking many moods. It is somewhat classical, often joyful, sometimes soothing.
Anderson returned to rock with his 2000 release The Secret Language of Birds and in 2003 with Rupi’s Dance. His voice is still clear and his flute still soars. His persona is a modern world traveler sensing different cultures and witnessing political changes, yet still a sort of medieval minstrel. His images are imaginative and his lyrics are full of alliteration. “Monserrat” and “Calliandra Shade” and “Lost in Crowds” are as good as anything Jethro Tull did in the distant past. Old boomers still listening to their old music should rediscover Ian Anderson.