The Crane Wife is an old Japanese folktale. While there are many variations of the tale, a common version is that a poor man finds an injured crane on his doorstep (or outside with an arrow in it), takes it in and nurses it back to health. After he releases the crane, a woman appears at his doorstep with whom he falls in love and marries. Because they need money, his wife offers to weave wondrous clothes out of silk that they can sell at the market, but only if he agrees never to watch her making them. They begin to sell them and live a comfortable life, but he soon makes her weave them more and more. Oblivious to his wife's declining health, his greed increases. He eventually peeks in to see what she is doing to make the silk she weaves so desirable. He is shocked to discover that at the loom is a crane plucking feathers from her own body and weaving them into the loom. The crane, seeing him, flies away and never returns.
This song is a portrayal of the 900-day Siege of Leningrad during the Second World War. During the siege, the German army surrounded the city entirely, preventing anything from going in or out. As a result, many died of starvation, and the final death-toll is estimated to be over one million. The song also has a political undertone to it; it is stated that despite the fact that people put their faith in the government which swore to protect them, they ended up being left unprepared and unequipped to fight off the Germans. The song references Nikolai Vavilov, a Russian botanist who was murdered by Joseph Stalin, in the lyrics.
"The last great book I read was Hunger by Elise Blackwell. It's about the siege of Leningrad in World War II, and there was a botanical institute. During the siege, which lasted a long time, the entire population was starving, but all of the botanists in the institute swore themselves to protect the catalog of seeds and plants and things, from not only a starving population, but also from themselves. It's pretty amazing. I actually ended up writing "When the War Came", a song on the new record, about that." - Colin Meloy
Shankill Butchers is a song about the Ulster Volunteer Force gang, the Shankill Butchers. The UVF is a Protestantparamilitary organization. The Shankill Butchers split off from the UVF in the mid-1970s and carried out a series of grisly murders. These are the basis of the song. The Butchers abducted seven random Catholic citizens of Northern Ireland and killed them in the middle of the night by slashing their throats. They also carried out several other shootings and bomb attacks, killing as many as 32 people. 
The album was well received by critics, earning an 84% positive out of all reviews culled by Metacritic. It was ranked #41 on Pitchfork Media's list of the top 50 albums of 2006. JustPressPlay named it the second best album of the 2000s.Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times called it "the best Jethro Tull album since Heavy Horses." The album has sold 284,000 copies in the United States up to December 2008. In a listener poll by NPR, The Crane Wife was picked as the #1 album of 2006.
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