Jethro Tull

Minstrel in the Gallery

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Minstrel in the Gallery was Tull's most artistically successful and elaborately produced album since Thick as a Brick and harked back to that album with the inclusion of a 17-minute extended piece ("Baker Street Muse"). Although English folk elements abound, this is really a hard rock showcase on a par with -- and perhaps even more aggressive than -- anything on Aqualung. The title track is a superb showcase for the group, freely mixing folk melodies, lilting flute passages, and archaic, pre-Elizabethan feel, and the fiercest electric rock in the group's history -- parts of it do recall phrases from A Passion Play, but all of it is more successful than anything on War Child. Martin Barre's attack on the guitar is as ferocious as anything in the band's history, and John Evan's organ matches him amp for amp, while Barriemore Barlow and Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond hold things together in a furious performance. Anderson's flair for drama and melody come to the fore in "Cold Wind to Valhalla," and "Requiem" is the loveliest acoustic number in Tull's repertory, featuring nothing but Anderson's singing and acoustic guitar, Hammond-Hammond's bass, and a small string orchestra backing them. "Nothing at All" isn't far behind for sheer, unabashed beauty, but "Black Satin Dancer" is a little too cacophonous for its own good. "Baker Street Muse" recalls Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play, not only in its structure but a few passages; at slightly under 17 minutes, it's a tad more manageable than either of its conceptual predecessors, and it has all of their virtues, freely overlapping hard rock and folk material, classical arrangements (some of the most tasteful string playing on a Tull recording), surprising tempo shifts, and complex stream-of-consciousness lyrics (some of which clearly veer into self-parody) into a compelling whole.

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