Jethro Tull’s Minstrel in the Gallery garnered mixed and occasionally scathing reviews when it first appeared in 1975, but the fans loved it, buying enough copies to make it the group’s sixth Top 10 album in a row. Ostensibly as a result, we now have this 40th-anniversary “La Grande Edition,” which includes two CDs and two DVDs, plus an 80-page booklet with photos, lyrics, essays, and track-by-track annotations by Jethro Tull vocalist and prime mover Ian Anderson.
The first CD features a new stereo mix of the album plus alternate versions of several of its tracks, a B-side, and three BBC recordings. CD number two adds a Paris concert from July 1975, a few months before Minstrel’s release, that incorporates versions of its title cut, six tracks from Aqualung, and five other performances. The DVDs offer DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mixes as well as a 96/24 PCM stereo mix of everything on the CDs and an eight-minute concert video. Those who consider all this overkill can opt for a simultaneously released single-disc stereo remix of the original album.
A press release accompanying the 40th-anniversary package states that Minstrel’s songs “rock as hard as anything in the band’s…catalog.” In fact, that’s largely not the case, which is good news in my view. The rockers you will find here, including the title cut and “Black Satin Dancer,” seem relatively undistinguished, with frequently anachronistic-sounding and unimaginative percussion and guitar licks and vocals that fail to fully showcase Anderson’s strengths as a singer.
But even the rockers, such as “Cold Wind to Valhalla,” incorporate melodic acoustic elements; and the predominant all-folk material—which often has more in common with, say, Donovan’s “Lalena” than with anything in rock—is almost uniformly gorgeous. Featuring flute, guitar and an emotive string quartet, such exquisite albeit lyrically abstruse creations as “Requiem” and “One White Duck” also prove Anderson to be a fine singer. And they sound better than ever in the five-channel DVD-audio versions here.