Minstrel in the Gallery is the eighth studio album by British band Jethro Tull, recorded in April and released in September 1975. The album goes in a different direction from their previous work War Child (1974), with the orchestration being replaced by a string quartet conducted by David Palmer. The band also returned to the blend of electric and acoustic pieces, in a manner closer to their early '70s albums such as Benefit (1970), Aqualung (1971) and Thick as a Brick (1972), and for the first time since their two concept albums of Thick as a Brick (1972) and A Passion Play (1973), they recorded a song of more than ten minutes, which occupies almost all of the second side of the record.
It would be the last album to feature bassist Jeffrey Hammond, who was replaced by former Carmen bass player John Glascock.
The band recorded the album in the Maison Rouge Mobile Studio, in Monaco. They recorded "Minstrel in the Gallery", "Cold Wind to Valhalla", "Black Satin Dancer" and "One White Duck/010= Nothing at All" on 15 May 1975, "Baker St. Muse" and "Grace" on 18 May, and finally "Requiem" on 7 June 1975.
Ian Anderson thought that the band was unfocused in the making of the music, leaving him with more freedom to explore the melodies and themes. Minstrel in the Gallery's lyrics and subject matter do show an introspective and cynical air, possibly the byproduct of Anderson's recent divorce from first wife Jennie Franks and the pressures of touring, coupled with the frustrations of writing for and recording the album in Monaco.
The album's title refers to the use of a minstrel's gallery in the great hall of castles or manor houses. This analogy was used thematically in the opening spoken words of the title track, "Cold Wind to Valhalla" and "Baker St. Muse" and also in the songs lyrics, always in a first person manner.
Stylistically the album is varied, exemplary of Jethro Tull's best hard rock performances, with long instrumental passages, invested with elements of British folk and archaic, pre-Elizabethan sounds. Team Rock called Minstrel in the Gallery's musical style a "heavy metal take on the obsessively ornamented style of A Passion Play".
Minstrel in the Gallery was remastered with five additional bonus tracks in November 2002, including incomplete live-in-the-studio renditions of "Minstrel in the Gallery" and "Cold Wind to Valhalla", some tracks that appeared only on maxi-singles ("Pan Dance", "March the Mad Scientist") and "Summerday Sands" which was the B-side of the "Minstrel in the Gallery" single.
In 2015, commemorating the 40th anniversary of Minstrel in the Gallery, it was released as a box set with two CDs and two DVDs, named La Grande Edition. The box contains rare and previously unreleased tracks (such as alternate takes from "Requiem", "Grace" and "One White Duck") including new stereo mixes by Steven Wilson and a live presentation, from 1975 in Palais des Sports, remixed by Jakko Jakszyk. Also, an 80-page booklet featuring track-by-track annotations by Ian Anderson, a history of the group and recollections of life on tour by road crew member Kenny Wylie, maintenance engineer Pete Smith and string section musician Liz Edwards. Heavyweight vinyl and standard CD editions of the album were also announced.
Rolling Stone's contemporary review has a negative approach towards Minstrel in the Gallery, stating that "The fact that Ian Anderson and the lads have once again plundered the British secular music tradition signifies little and delivers less." The review recalls the music in terms as "a wash of lugubrious string passages", the "anachronisms of Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond's mechanical bass lines" and "Martin Barre's hysterical electric guitar montages". The lyrics are considered "contrary to the LP's basic concept instantly forgettable".
AllMusic has a favourable review, stating that the album is the "most artistically successful and elaborately produced album since Thick as a Brick". Analysing the music, it said: "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".
Minstrel in the Gallery received Gold Certification in both the United States and the UK and is the ninth best selling Jethro Tull album. The album peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard album chart, and at No. 20 in the UK Albums Chart – Songs from the Wood would sell better two years later in the UK. It also charted in Norway, reaching No. 13, and Austria, where it reached also No. 7, and in Sweden where it reached the No. 50 spot. It fared quite well in Denmark, peaking at No. 8.
Ian Anderson – vocals, flute, acoustic guitar
Martin Barre – electric guitar
John Evan – piano, organ
Jeffrey Hammond – bass guitar, string bass
Barriemore Barlow – drums, percussion
David Palmer – string quintet arrangements and conducting
Rita Eddowes, Elizabeth Edwards, Patrick Halling and Bridget Procter – violin
Katharine Tullborn – cello
Brian Ward – photographs
Ron Kriss and J.E. Garnett – front cover, based on a print by Joseph Nash
Robin Black – sound engineering
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