Jethro Tull may have gone the way of the late man the British rock band named itself for but the music remains a fertile playground for founding member Ian Anderson. The flautist and vocalist, the man who has spent decades being misidentified as the titular character in the group’s ever-unfolding narrative, returns to the group’s greatest hits (more or less) on this imaginative and refreshing collection. With the Carducci String Quartet providing all the strings and things and Anderson lending his considerable vocal and instrumental talents, this trip is more than a mere stroll down memory lane.

Anderson isn’t breaking new ground. His contemporaries in the Moody Blues were doing this kind of stuff from the start. British progressive acts, including Yes, have tried their hands at similar collaborations more than once in the last half century. Innovation isn’t the point. In truth, Jethro Tull’s music has always carried a flare that begged for this treatment and wore its Old World tendencies on its shabby, snot-caked sleeves. “Aqualung” (performed here as “Aquafugue”) thrived on the force and drama of the old masters as much as it borrowed from the blues; it rocked intensely enough to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Deep Purple and Black Sabbath and to inspire Iron Maiden founder Steve Harris.

Harris’ band once covered “Cross-Eyed Mary,” a track not given the quartet treatment this time around, though it surely could have, though they might just as well have done “Locomotive Breath” (transformed to the more economical “Loco” here). Once more, Anderson’s appreciation for the American blues vernacular comes to the fore there, though the lyrics transform the tune into something else, something either more sinister or more apt to stand on the treacherous precipice between the comic and tragic.

Anderson doesn’t sing with the same venom evident in the originals. Some of that may come down to him being an older, wiser man. It may also be attributed to his apparent desire to have the material fully transform into its new iteration. Demonstrating one’s knack for clever, well-conceived lines of poetry rests on the mind of a man who knows that his words and music always deserved more credit than they received.

Still, this isn’t a desperate grab to steer the course of one’s legacy. Anderson’s smart enough to know that only time can do that. It is ultimately a real artistic statement that pleads with us to consider new possibilities within the tunes we’ve heard a million times before. That’s difficult to do. Eric Clapton pulled it off with “Layla,” transforming one of his oldest hits into something unrecognizable and new. Though John Coltrane and Miles Davis were both capable of doing it within the jazz idiom, the rockers and poppers have rarely been as lucky as either of those legends or even Slowhand.

So, new renditions of “Bungle in the Jungle” (“Bungle”) and “Living in the Past” (“In the Past”) may not elicit the same kinds of collective oohs and aahs, but they will most certainly please stalwart fans looking for a new way to enjoy the old familiar. That’s probably the best part of the whole shebang, that Anderson has made it enjoyable, allowing the humor of the originals to remain and to take the songs into these new settings without a single waft of pretension.

The best stuff here may not even be the new renditions of the biggest hits but the material that’s probably familiar mostly to the deep diggers, such as “We Used to Bach” (“We Used to Know / Bach Prelude C Major”) and “Velvet Gold” (“Velvet Green”). All this will satisfy appetites for the time being and allow us to greet an inevitable second volume of this kind with a mind even more open.

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