Jethro Tull/Benefit (The 50th Anniversary Enhanced Edition/Rhino
Four out of Five Stars
To be clear, this isn’t the first remake/remodel of Jethro Tull’s classic third album Benefit. Like all the other revised editions of the previous Tull offerings, it celebrates the band’s legacy with an overarched expanded box set that adds a wealth of unreleased tracks—notably, new takes on “17,” “Witch’s Promise,” “Teacher” and “Singing All Day”—in remastered versions as well as the entire original album courtesy of Steven Wilson remarkable remixes. To further tempt the completist, two full concert recordings are included, from Tanglewood and The Aragon Ballroom specifically, each vintage 1970 respectively. A hardcover book, a collection of reflections from the players and participants, and an array of visual offerings make for a sumptuous package that just might find Tull enthusiasts justifying the cost of a significant repurchase.
For those who were initially turned on to Tull with Aqualung (one can only imagine what that anniversary edition will provide!), it ought to be noted that Benefit was really the band’s first true conceptual album, if not in theme then certainly in overall execution. The addition of keyboardist John Evan, namesake of the John Evan Band (which amounted to Tull’s initial incarnation), added an extra texture and cohesiveness to the material overall. As the follow-up to the group’s first two albums—This Was (1968) and Stand Up (1969)—it affirmed the fact that Jethro Tull was on a creative roll, Benefit being their third album in as many years. It was also the final album with bassist Glenn Cornick, who went on to find lesser glories with the otherwise obscure Wild Turkey.
As a bridge between those early blues-infused efforts and the anthem-oriented Aqualung, Benefit more than held its own, thanks to more sophisticated arrangements and the solid songwriting that brought the entire effort to the fore. Granted, some of the material might have sounded less assertive than before, but even so, songs such as “With You There To Help Me,” “Nothing To Say,” “To Cry You a Song,” “Sossity, You’re a Woman” and the beautiful ballad “For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me” remain an indelible part of the Tull repertoire. Ian Anderson’s singing skills had come a long way towards shaping the band’s sound and it became clear that from this point on, they were no longer a novelty band, but rather heavyweight headliners that could easily compete with their peers at the time.
So once again, the inevitable question remains—is there a benefit to investing in this new Benefit, possibly for the third time? Or, is it best to save the coin for the inevitable Aqualung reboot? The answer depends on one’s level of devotion to the band and its brand. True devotees ought to be enthused.