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

MINSTREL IN THE GALLERY

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.98 | 788 ratings

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Mr. Soot Gremlin
4 stars This has to be one of Jethro Tull's finest moments. While the band often was able to evoke a very wonderful old English sound and feeling with their earlier music, Minstrel in the Gallery is a true triumph in this respect. Every song has the "prog-folk" feeling that was explored later in their three folk rock albums, but here it is much darker and just... perfect. Ian Anderson put the minstrel concept to good use and as a result most songs on Minstrel are acoustic guitar oriented. But it is Jethro Tull, of course, and so the acoustic is blended with hard electric guitar riffs, thundering drums, and searing keyboards when needed. Add to that the usual string arrangements courtesy of David Palmer, and you have a nearly perfect album that is constantly engaging and amazingly unique.

It opens with the title track, which introduces us to the minstrel band presenting a lord and his lady one of their cheery tunes. At first, it goes along with sparse instrumentation and has that perfect medieval feel, with great acoustic guitar and flute. The lyrics are quite dense and don't have any obvious meaning, but that is a whole separate matter if you wish to take a look at exactly what it is he's singing. As the song goes on, the acoustic guitar fades away and is replaced suddenly by distorted, hard rock guitar. Then, the song kicks into overdrive, and we are presented with some of Jethro Tull's hardest, most complex and fun to listen to instrumental playing since maybe A Passion Play. Anderson also returns to the verses for awhile, but the real focus is the guitar and flute. This song sets the stage for the rest of the album, as some of the best songs follow a similar acoustic/electric blend. The complexity of the music doesn't die down much, either.

The other songs are all great as well, but the highlight of the whole album is definitely the nearly side-long suite "Baker St. Muse". This giant of a track is also one of the band's best works and is more of a trip through a strange, mysterious London than a song. Broken into multiple parts, it features some of Ian's best acoustic guitar playing, which dominates most of the track, and spectacular string arrangements. The sections with the entire band are fantastic as well. "Baker St. Muse" is truly an amazing song, worthy of many listens. The other highlights of the album are "Cold Wind to Valhalla" and "One White Duck/0^10=Nothing at All", but every track has something very special. This is an album that is constantly rewarding and a true work of art. Additionally, the remastered CD version that I have features five bonus tracks, including the great "Summerday Sands". These are also similar in sound to the album tracks, and are worthy of listening to (except maybe the two "live" tracks, which despite the name don't make sense as live performances).

The only downsides to this album would be firstly the sound, which is not always that good. There is a rather dull quality sometimes, and even a high-pitched tone just audible behind the music in some tracks. I expect it was like this on the original album and it's a shame, because it does take away from the mood of the songs somewhat. Also, someone who likes harder prog or more electric guitar than acoustic, you may be dissapointed by this album, which often stays more mellow than fiery. Then again, there are plenty of parts that pack a real punch.

Final thought? Minstrel in the Gallery is probably my favorite Tull album and is without a doubt the best medieval sounding/themed album they did. One could say it takes the idea started on Aqualung with Anderson's short acoustic pieces and improves on it to the point where a whole album could be made from it. Really great album for anyone who likes acoustic, medieval prog and great songwriting.

Mr. Soot Gremlin | 4/5 |

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