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Jethro Tull - Minstrel in the Gallery CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.03 | 1247 ratings

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5 stars "Oh Officer-Let me send her to a cheap hotel. I'll pay the bill and make well."

After setting up a down and out scene of a female drunkard, Ian Anderson's lyrical concern, in the third suite to to the prog epic "Baker Street Muse", still brings a lump to my throat. Why it does after all these years is a mystery, but I find that it sends this well written and expertly played album into a higher Jethro Tull realm. Minstrel In the Gallery is the only Anderson creation with the power to do that. As a matter of fact, it's Anderson's brief but autobiographical clues and allusions that brings so much to Minstrel In The Gallery that can't be found in any Tull album before or after.

It's not that Anderson is spilling his guts here but allusions to infidelity, deceit, and duplicity in songs such as "One White Duck" seemed to have brought Ian's other feelings out on to his sleeve. Anderson is never overtly confessional. It's just his unique mixing of cynical lyrics and sardonic wit with human emotions that frees Minstrel In The Gallery from a clinical grave.

And six feet under it could have been. But I digress. Mixed with an instrumental concert romp from the brain of guitarist Martin Barre, the title track is both a pleasure and an aural showboat. Anderson's deft lyrics dance around or weave and deflect the pulsing bass of Jeffrey Hammond, who somehow manages to anchor the busy playing of uber drummer Barrie Barlow, without ever sounding overly busy himself all the while goose stepping around like a six foot metronome.

Long gone is the loudly played, recorded and mixed "Aqualung guitar" of Barre. A quieter, dryer but excellently toned unrelenting guitar assault by Barre removes himself from the rock wars and places him squarely in the heart of prog rock. There is more great Barre playing to come, especially on the "Cold Wind To Valhalla", "Black Satin Dancer" and the above mentioned "Baker Street Muse." Good old John Evan's piano and B3 organ seems a bit forced on most songs, especially on the album's title track, and a bit redundant on other songs that feature a string quintet arranged by David Palmer. Indeed, it's Palmer's strings and Anderson's over dubbed acoustic playing on song intros and featured on "Requiem" and "One White Duck/0^10=Nothing At All" that has made many people forget themselves and regard Minstrel In the Gallery" as some kind of bizarre unplugged acoustic based concoction. I wonder what Barre, Hammond and Barlow would have felt about that? Its easy to guess that they would not been amused.

The penultimate album cut on the original vinyl LP was the fantastic 16+ minute four part epic suite "Baker Street Muse." I don't know what I can say about this fantastic piece of prog rock music that hasn't been said many times before, except that when the song starts with Anderson flubbing the first take of his acoustic intro and calling for "take two", I actually believe that "take two" was the actual mix master for this complex song. So great was the playing of all mentioned, so great was the lyrics of Anderson, so great was the string arrangements by Palmer, so great were Anderson's vocals, on this and every other song on Minstrel In The Gallery, that the record could have come off as some clinically cold creature that could have easily resembled the reanimation of Frankenstein's monster. But it didn't. Anderson, for the once and only time in his career, breathed some real life and emotion into this work and turned Minstrel In The Gallery into a 5 star masterpiece. Bravo. I'm only sad that there was never an encore.

SteveG | 5/5 |


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