There was a time when Jethro Tull was a highly respected band. They had a distinctive folksy-bluesy sound, they were generally well-loved, and their frontman Ian Anderson had created a delightful image for himself – that of a one-legged minstrel expertly playing the flute.

But by and by, Anderson turned more progressive, and, after their first two prog-rock albums – Aqualung and Thick as a Brick – ever more self-indulgent, and the band (with only two core members left – Anderson and guitarist Martin Barre) descended into bad synth-laden heavy metal. They also, along the way, lost their popularity and acclaim, and, like many prog-rock bands, collected around themselves a dedicated and rabid bunch of fanatics, thus preventing them from realising how bad they had become.

But in the last few years, Ian Anderson seems to have come to his senses, and (like some other dinosaurs I could mention) realised the importance of creating songs rather than ruminations set to soundtracks.

His last few albums – be they Tull or solo albums – have had melodies rather empty flute-blowing, and music rather than mindless heavy-metal guitar. And the best of this lot is his latest solo album – the 2003 release Rupi’s Dance.

Rupi’s Dance is an album by Ian Anderson containing simple songs about simple things, but it manages not to be simplistic. The songs are on subjects ranging from watching animals – in zoos or elsewhere – to simply watching life going by. The topics of the songs can be guessed from their titles – ‘A Raft of Penguins’, ‘Old Black Cat’, ‘Lost in Crowds’, and so on. Ian never goes off the point, and the point is never laboured. Rupi’s Dance is, like the best Tull albums, charming, slightly sad, with Ian’s love for humankind tinged with his trademark derision for all of us.

But Rupi’s Dance is an old man’s album, and Ian seems to have tired of hating other people. The lyrics (available here, with commentary) seem appreciative and surprisingly gentle, and rather than ridiculing people, he is mocking people’s traits and characteristics, and never too harshly. The music is similar in style, if not in quality, to old classics like ‘Living in the Past’ and ‘Life Is a Long Song’, and is notable for the absence of the heavy and irritating tone of Barre Guitar (I think Barre’s a truly underrated guitarist, but I hate the guitar tone he picked up in the 80s). Even the lesser songs are a pleasant listen.

In fact, Rupi’s Dance is Ian at his most seductive and welcoming since 1978’s Heavy Horses, and at his most tender and personal since perhaps 1969’s Stand Up. And it actually manages to fare well (albeit not exceedingly so) in comparison with these two classics.

Anyone who likes early Tull, or simply folksy music in general, should get this album. It’s not a work of genius, it’s not even consistently good, but it is a pleasant surprise nonetheless.