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

MINSTREL IN THE GALLERY

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.98 | 776 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Review 47, Minstrel In The Gallery, Jethro Tull, 1975

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This is one of the more interesting Tull albums from the point of view of a progressive rock fan. Not only is there a twenty minute suite (epic!!!111) with a string quartet behind it, but there's also a range of the various material that Tull seem to have attacked in their time. However, it doesn't really fully satisfy me. It has dramatically grown on me (with quite a lot of listens. I suppose if I'd shelved it earlier I wouldn't like it as much as I do now), but even now I don't particularly care for large parts of the album. Still, this is a daring effort, the string quartet is incorporated very well on Baker Street Muse, and there is enough great material to satisfy the discerning prog-fan.

Minstrel In The Gallery itself, for all the people fawning over it, hasn't really caught onto me. Sure, the basic elements of Tull are there, including cunning acoustic strumming, medieval noises, Martin Barre's hard-rocking guitar, Ian Anderson's occasional flautistry and sarcastic and semi-nonsensical lyrics. The sound is extremely stripped away, leaving really only Anderson and Barre respectively dominating sections of the piece with some general crashing from Barlowe in the background and a couple of hums from Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond. There is no real depth to the piece, and I just find that an awkward listen. Not to say there aren't some very impressive moments both on acoustics and electrics (with complimentary drums), but there are substantial sections of the eight minute track where I'm more bored than excited by the vaguely roaring guitar-work.

Cold Wind To Valhalla is rather different, again opening with a rather nice acoustic guitar and an appropriately Nordic feel, which is surprisingly well-complimented by the cello (I think; my ear for stringed instruments could be better). Again we have glimpses of a Tull whose enthusiasm for making noise seems a little disproportionate to their range of ideas, but overall we get a good dose of atmosphere, some really great moments from Anderson's vocals especially as well as surprisingly gritty and potent guitar-work. Some very nice dissonant violins over the top, and it is overall an extremely enjoyable piece.

Black Satin Dancer is the first indication of the album really picking up. Just about everything possible was included on the song, whether that's the quartet, piano, flute, or a rather more dominant rhythm section, with whatever percussion Barriemore Barlowe could find thrown I all around the song. Anderson's lyrics are enchanting, medieval and excellently sung. Martin Barre's dissonance and moody guitar heroics are very well-complimented by a throbbing Hammond bass-line. The classic flute parts are originally used on this one, and Ian Anderson's 'fwubbah, flubbah' shouting is no less than hilarious. We do get glimpses of darker organ, and John Evan seems rather more comfortable contributing to this one. The final reprise manages a slowed version of parts of the song with a phenomenal fun factor Great song, extremely catchy, and air xylophone abounds.

Requiem is another enjoyable piece, with the acoustic and the violin quartet being most prominent. I do rather like the string arrangement, and overall sound is very good. Ian Anderson's sad vocal and final twists on the acoustic guitar give the piece a rather darker feel.

One White Duck/ O^10 = Nothing At All is another acoustic-strings piece (with a plucked violin, if I hear correctly). The opening half, One White Duck, is a beautiful piece with emotional and bitterness oozing from every sound and excellent lyrical material. The more sarcastic 0^10 is a more acquired piece, with only a punchy and rather aggressive acoustic and vocal. Both of these features are excellent, but the final verse of the lyrics is truly an extreme example of cryptic, deliberately obtuse lyrics. Even I don't really care for them.

Baker Street Muse is the album's highlight, I think, even if the flow doesn't always quite work. A combination of the clever lyrics, the acoustics and the string quartet is the connecting factor for the piece. The first section, Baker Street Muse, features both the more awkward rocking Tull of this album (with a really wallowing main riff made up for by decent solos, especially flute) and the clever acoustic and quartet that really could have handled the piece without the band's help. The reliance on vocals and acoustics really does give it a one-man's-journey feel that is entirely welcome.

A jumpy acoustic so typical of Anderson leads onto Pig-Me And The Whore, packed full of innuendo, great guitar-work from Martin Barre and even a much-missed swelling organ. Following about a minute of this, an instrumental section features, spotlighting Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond's bass and a xylophone or similar percussive creature.

Crash Barrier Waltzer is a more lamentful and narrative piece, with an excellent combination of chord and note acoustic guitar, as well as the album's best use of the strings. We get a beautiful and thoughtful instrumental mainly created by the flute and acoustics.

Mother England Reverie is where everything really comes together, with the band and the quartet contributing in equal measure. The piano and acoustics really seem to merge with the strings on the initial part, and the transition to a full on rock section is more than welcome, managing to hammer through ideas with more than just noise. A rather awkward choice of transition moves to a repeat of the earlier 'Indian restaurants that curry my brain' section, to a vicious organ hum. We have some sophisticated working-out of earlier themes before the conclusion which must feature Martin Barre's finest guitar solo, as well as an acoustic-and-orchestra inclusive take on the standard thunderous blues ending.

Grace is an acoustic end to the album, lasting for maybe 20 seconds, but providing a nice cohesive, and either resigned or positive end to the album proper, depending on how you want to look at it.

Onto the bonus goodies: Summerday Sands is a Tullish acoustic single, which isn't bad, with a few grand moments, but a not-particularly-impressive chorus. Still, the acoustics are quite nice, and the song's not so bad as to ruin the album. March The Mad Scientist is a much more impressive piece, with a seriously excellent set of acoustics and bass, including a slight development of the theme of Only Solitaire. Everything is rather well-handled. Great piece. Pan Dance has the feel of a more basic Tull instrumental, with a clear flute that you wouldn't really expect from Ian Anderson. I do love it, but it's pretty indescribable.

The live version of Minstrel In The Gallery is much more concise and likable with none of the electric wallowing I have issues with and some excellent harmonies and playing from Barlowe. I suppose it won't satisfy those who like the stripped-back guitar sound, but it works for me. Cold Wind To Valhalla feels a lot more lively, with a better flute sound, at least. Unfortunately, the length is reduced so much as to be more a preview of the live version rather than a proper track. It doesn't work too badly as a conclusion, however, and the bonuses are a nice set, I think.

Ah, strings are a quintet with four violins and a cello. Apologies for laziness, but my energy levels aren't high enough to go back and fix everything. Anyway, I'm going to say that the album as a whole has some extremely interesting moments, but doesn't really satisfy me consistently enough. I have understated my love for the lyrical content of Baker Street Muse, because I feel that lyrics are something that a person should create their own opinion and understanding of. You could do a lot worse, and Baker Street Muse is a must-have for any fan of the more unusual side of Tull.

Rating: Four Stars

Favourite Track: Baker Street Muse

TGM: Orb | 4/5 |

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