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Jethro Tull - Minstrel In The Gallery CD (album) cover

MINSTREL IN THE GALLERY

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.98 | 791 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
2 stars I bought this album when it came out in 1975 even though I hadn't kept up with the group since "Aqualung." I must have read a favorable review or something and, since nothing else in the record racks caught my eye that week, thought I'd give it a whirl. I was surprisingly underwhelmed by it. Every few years I'd come across it in my LP collection. Not being able to recall what any of the songs sounded like I'd slap it on the turntable and listen to it with fresh ears. I always hoped that this would be the time that I'd "get it" and discover a masterpiece spinning right under my nose but to no avail. I made many, many attempts to like this album but I never did. I guess I never will.

"Minstrel in the Gallery" starts out great. It's done in the merry style they do best and things are moving along splendidly until the full band comes in with an unnecessary hard rock edge, trying to be "heavy." It ruins the tune for me totally. After a long musical interlude in the middle Ian Anderson's vocal reappears and the song gets better for a while but I can't help but wonder why John Evan's filling organ is buried in the mix. It could have made a huge difference because the tune desperately needs some backbone. "Cold Wind to Valhalla" is another example of them starting a song with excellent acoustic instrumentation and then repeating the same mistake by crashing the casual party with a needlessly raucous version of the tune. Add to that the inexcusable looseness between Martin Barre's guitar, Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond's bass and Barriemore Barlow's drums (it sounds like they only rehearsed the track a few times before recording it) and you have a clumsy mess on your hands. "Black Satin Dancer" follows and you're treated to some tasteful string orchestration but the band sounds like they're hopelessly hunting for the elusive groove throughout. They segue into a contrived instrumental segment that seems complicated just for the sake of complication and that never works. Next is "Requiem," a decent ballad that features the string section performing a pretty score behind Ian's vocal. The problem here is that the melody is all over the place, making it nearly impossible to recall once the tune is over.

"One White Duck/ 0 (10) = Nothing at All" may have a confusing title but it's the highlight of the record. When Jethro Tull performs a song that is as firmly rooted in progressive folk as this one is (and they don't try to turn it into a rocker halfway through) they demonstrate why they are so highly regarded. Even the lyrics make sense, as Anderson seems to be venting his frustrations with his wife. "Something must be wrong with me and my brain/if I'm so patently unrewarding/but my dreams are for dreaming and best left that way/and my zero to your power of ten equals nothing at all." (Okay, it's not exactly "My God" quality but it beats the words to the first four songs by a mile.) "Baker Street Muse" is an almost 17-minute long epic and parts of it fly while other parts of it struggle along. It starts off well with piano and strings and this time when the group joins in they are a tight unit and things seem promising. "Pig- me and the Whore" is the 2nd chapter and the transition back down to an acoustic feel is smoothly done. "Crash-Barrier Waltzer" is a fine showcase for Ian's skilled vocals, some spirited acoustic guitar playing and more excellent contributions from the orchestra. "Mother England Reverie" is an extension of that inertia for a few minutes but then the band runs off the road as they begin to attempt tying the different themes together. They go from hard to soft and back again but it is rough in places where it shouldn't be and there's just not enough excitement generated to seal the deal in the end. "Grace" is really nothing more than a 37-second afterthought that finishes the album.

Other than the song I quoted lyrics from, the words Anderson wrote for this record are so "train of thought" personal that I have a hard time understanding what most of the tunes are about. In fact, since Ian penned all the songs and produced the whole project it may have worked a lot better if he'd brought in other musicians and made it a solo effort entirely. Of course we'll never know how that may (or may not) have worked, but as a Jethro Tull album it fails to impress me no matter how many times I listen, even with the best of intentions. 2.3 stars.

Chicapah | 2/5 |

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