Friday, May 8, 2015


If you are unfamiliar with this series of Tull reissues, they are the gold standard for back catalogue upgrades.  Pretty much everything you can do to beef up an album happens with them, and in the best possible quality.  Superior audio?  Check.  A modern remix for optimal digital listening?  Yup.  Bonus tracks?  Plenty.  A live, period concert?  An entire one, yes.  Video?  Some of that.  Revealing historical information about the album in question?  That and much more.

Housed in a hard-cover, diary-sized book, Minstrel in the Gallery, from 1975, was the last of Tull's concept albums.  Following the huge success of Aqualung and Thick as a Brick, Ian Anderson had made a series of themed discs, this preceded by A Passion Play and War Child.  This one featured a heavy string presence, calmer music, a lot of acoustic guitar and possibly a story line, although it wasn't a page-turner by any stretch.  It also didn't have the big rock theatrics of the earlier hit albums, and comes across as more of an Anderson solo album with its many acoustic moments.  It wasn't, it was more the material that dictated the lack of raunchy guitar licks or breathy flute solos.  And you will find several lovely contemplative numbers here, including the title cut, and One White Duck.  But a lack of a hit single didn't help, and Tull's biggest days, where they commanded sports arenas across North America and through Europe were nearing the end.

However, you can still hear the band in powerhouse mode on disc two, which is a full live show from the Palais des Sports in Paris in July of 1975.  The album wasn't out yet, so instead the crowd was treated to a crunching rock show for the hits, plus more subtle numbers featuring a string quartet.  Actually those strings could rock too, beefing up Aqualung material with cello parts and soaring violins. And what a show they could throw, from a blistering Cross-Eyed Mary to a classic Anderson flute showcase, a little comedy bit from the band, and the gentler new number, the soon-to-be released title track from Minstrel in the Gallery.

Audio fiends get both the main album and the live show on DVD-audio, in 5.1 audio and LPCM stereo.  There's a previously unreleased quad mix, done back in the day, and even a bit of the Palais show captured on film.  The liner notes have a typically grouchy Anderson downplaying the album's charms, the rest of the band disagreeing about whether they were having too much fun in Monte Carlo to full participate in the recording, and lots of great stories,facts and figures.  

Unlike many box sets that explode a single album into four and five discs, mostly with slight variations from session takes, these Tull collections never feel like too much.  In truth, they aren't even the best albums of the times, but it's so much fun reading about them and discovering new elements that they now seem much, much better.

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