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Lonnie E. Holder
- Published on Amazon.com
After "Aqualung" and "War Child" were such huge successes, I was worried that Jethro Tull had, as Frank Zappa phrased it, gone commercial. "Minstrel in the Gallery" corrected that notion. "Minstrel in the Gallery" returns Tull to their original self-defined genre.
I always get a kick out of people trying to fit Jethro Tull into any particular type of music, because they are just plain not anything. While they have elements of hard rock/metal, elements of pop, elements of progressive, elements of folk, elements of renaissance, and even a bit of classical here and there, they are all of the above and none of the above. They just are.
The opening track, "Minstrel in the Gallery," begins with hammering and noises that make it sound as though the group is on a stage that is being prepared for a play. The song then transitions into a bard-like minstrel song, and then takes off into a hard rock song; an excellent opening song that sets you up for the things to come.
"Cold Wind to Valhalla" will not fool you. There are some violins and flavor of folk/renaissance, but at around 1 minute and 45 seconds into the song it switches into overdrive and you realize you are listening to a solidly rock song. There is excellent use of violins in this song to help the orchestration. It is hard to believe that violins can be a hard-rock instrument.
You hear classic Jethro Tull in the beginning of "Black Satin Dancer," then some hard rock riffs, and you suspect what will come next in this song. You would be right and wrong. This song is a sensual song with allusions of sexual foreplay and intense longing, perhaps even lust. Sometimes I felt some occasional elements of King Crimson, and then not. The hard rock elements intertwine with classic Tull and some occasional progressive flashes. This is a most excellent song.
Then the melancholy strains of "Requiem" lulls you, as Ian Anderson and company sound more like Kansas or Simon and Garfunkel, and yet, the sound is still Tull. It seems that Tull intended this song for the feel rather than for the words.
Then, as you move into "One White Duck/0^10 = Nothing at All" you realize that "Requiem" was a perfect transition between "Black Satin Dancer" and this song. I love this song, because it seems to have meaning, and seems to have no meaning, and you hover on the edge of understanding without understanding, though you think you should, and could, if you could listen a little longer and read the lyrics just one more time. However, this song is, of course, classic Tull, and the lyrics do mean something, but they are art, and art is for the interpretation of the listener. Do not make too much of this song, and do not make too little. Just listen and love it.
Then, off to signature Tull, the extended, intertwined story-song, "Baker St. Muse." Here you have an intro about a muse, a very down-to-earth fellow crying out that Jethro Tull was not the commercial group that "War Child" seemed to make them out to be. We are in the gutter as we always were, singing about the things that have not changed, and so on to the next part of our story...
The other songs are stories of the street, likely stories of the Baker St. Muse (aka Jethro Tull). These songs are very sexual. Today they might even get a warning label, even though there is no use of the crude words that seem so popular. There is no need; Jethro Tull made the point without resorting to a limited, non-descriptive vocabulary. This group of songs finishes with "Mother England Reverie," which is a protestation that the singer is just a street player, a muse, and he'll never be anything but.
The CD finishes with a wrap-up song, "Grace," which is a marvelous little epilogue that not only finishes the CD, but also asks a simple, but layered question, "Hello breakfast. May I buy you again tomorrow?" In the context of the CD the question more likely means, can we be here tomorrow, can we still do what we are doing? Perhaps, in consideration of the other songs, will anyone care?
Sometimes I think of the songs, coming after the nearly pop success of "Warchild," as being an apology for straying from the principles of Jethro Tull's music and style. Perhaps I am wrong. Regardless, listening to the seven albums before Warchild, and then "Warchild," and then "Minstrel in the Gallery," you realize that "Warchild" was not Tull's usual music, and "Minstrel in the Gallery" put them squarely back where they once were.
Jethro Tull has never been everyman's group. They never will be everyman's group. They occupy a unique place in modern music that no one is likely ever to define. This CD is solidly at the heart of the kind of music Jethro Tull is known for making. It is among the best of Jethro Tull.