In 1975, Minstrel in the Gallery, Jethro Tull’s eighth studio album and sixth gold record, reached #7 on the U.S. album charts. It was the band’s fifth consecutive Top 10 release. Recorded in Monte Carlo, Minstrel was the last Jethro Tull album to feature the classic lineup of Martin Barre, Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, Barriemore Barlow, and John Evan backing Ian Anderson. To mark Minstrel‘s 40th anniversary, a new four-disc box set sumptuously entitled Minstrel in the Gallery 40th Anniversary: La Grande Édition has just come out, packed full of goodies for the unreconstructed Tull fan.
The original album has been newly mixed (by Steve Wilson) in stereo and surround sound. For comparison purposes, the box set also includes an audio-only DVD with the original stereo mix and original quad mix (remember those?) along with the new one. In the liner notes – actually an extravagant 80-page booklet – Wilson reports that he made no radical changes for his new stereo mix, and that Ian Anderson approved the result.
With good reason. Even a momentary comparison reveals the new mix to sound much crisper, with much more presence all through the sound spectrum. If I ever want to indulge nostalgia for my long-gone LP, having a digital copy of the original mix will come in handy. Otherwise, the Steve Wilson mix is my new normal.
Along with the original album tracks, CD 1 includes “Summerday Sands,” the B-side to the title track single. I can’t recall ever hearing this love song before, and I have to say I like it, in spite of Anderson’s note that “it’s not quite me – it’s a bit too nice, there’s no dark cynicism lurking anywhere in it, which is why I find it annoying.” I beg to disagree. The change between the first verse, with “and we lay together on the Summerday Sands,” and the last, with “and we lied together on the Summerday Sands,” surely gives the song a cynical bite. Also, it isn’t as if Anderson never wrote another warm-hearted love song. “Fire at Midnight,” anyone?
Filling out the disc are alternate takes and versions, including a muted early take of the lovely “Requiem,” less polished than the one on the album but with clearer, more up-front (and non-doubled) vocals. It isn’t better, but it’s revealing. CD 1 closes with extra versions of “Minstrel in the Gallery,” “Cold Wind to Valhalla,” and (a bit out of place here) “Aqualung,” three studio recordings made specially for a 1975 BBC broadcast. They’re starker and more bare-bones than the album versions, nothing eye-opening but worth having.
CD 2 has the audio from a slamming July 5, 1975 concert at the Palais des Sports in Paris. The show included a lot of material from Aqualung along with “Bungle in the Jungle,” “Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day,” and “Critique Oblique.” “My God” and “Locomotive Breath” appear in the context of ambitious mini-suites, and the band previewed for the audience “Minstrel in the Gallery,” itself something of a suite.
The musicians had played together long enough to merge a rough-edged organic feel with their tight concert arrangements. Listen to Barriemore Barlow’s wild, Keith Moon-esque drumming in “Cross-Eyed Mary,” Martin Barre’s wailing electric guitar in “Minstrel in the Gallery,” or John Evan’s bluesy piano in “Locomotive Breath,” and you can appreciate the combined musicianship of these artists.
A second DVD has three concert mixes by Jakko Jakszyk for the listening pleasure of the dwindling ranks of audiophiles: 96/24 stereo, DTS 96/24 5.1 Surround, and Dolby AC3 5.1 Surround. It also includes a lively video of “Minstrel in the Gallery” from the Paris concert, which makes me wish a video of the whole concert had been available. The outfits alone! Jethro Tull circa 1975 was a paragon of rock and roll flamboyance.
Watching a video of this kind of concert is much more rewarding than merely listening to the audio, especially with Ian Anderson’s kaleidoscopic onstage personality. As he told me in our recent interview, “I dance around and play the fool for you on stage.” Still, I expect most fans will find it worthwhile to have the concert audio. The sound (Surround Sound or no) is good for the time period, and it shows one of progressive rock’s greatest outfits at a peak of energy and creativity. Pump up the volume.
Bottom line: there’s good stuff here for Tull fans, with the remixed album, extra tracks, and concert audio, along with lots of stories, reminiscences, and photos in the booklet. However, there isn’t as much as the packaging and the amount of media – four discs plus an information-packed and beautifully produced glossy booklet – would suggest. There’s only that one eight-minute video. Is the box set worth the price ($37.98 at Amazon as of this writing)? For completists and superfans, sure. For those who just want a clean, better-sounding mix of the album, look for the new mix on its single-CD or digital-download version, and in a limited-edition 180-gram vinyl pressing.