Friday, June 11, 2010

Albums2010 #6: Minstrel In The Gallery

What can we say about Jethro Tull? Well, nobody has rocked the flute harder than Jethro Tull. Ian Anderson makes it seem easy and makes it seem, I hate to say it, even a little cool. Even as my Dad had this near obsession with Pink Floyd, my Mom's musical drink of choice on vacations always involved Jethro Tull sneaking in there somewhere along the way- usually the more well-known album, Aqualung. But when I told Mom what I was doing with the Albums2010 Project, she loaded me down with a five album load of mid-to-late 70s British progressive rock (which is what we're dealing with this week for the Albums2010 project) including her all time favorite Jethro Tull album, Minstrel in the Gallery.

And you know what? It's actually a pretty damn good album. The sound of Jethro Tull is hard to quantify, but this album makes me think of those long summers in Minnesota, where, on various trips to the Cities, we'd always pass through Chaska, MN and always, without fail, we'd seem to run into miles and miles of traffic heading to the Renaissance Fair (which we never went too.) This album: it's like a band of rebel musicians got tired of strumming their lutes at the RenFair, went nuts and started a lute-playing rock band.

The first two tracks open the album with a bang: the title track blends folk and acoustic rock with some slamming hardcore rock n'roll guitar hooks that is a killer blending of styles that really attracts your attention and sucks you into the album. And, even more brilliantly, the second track: 'Cold Wind To Valhalla' does much the same thing- starting with an acoustic rock/folk feel before building into a driving rock melody that makes for an unusual amalgamation of styles that I think makes Tull's overall sound unique.

Of course, this being 70s British prog rock, there's got to be an ├╝ber-long song, somewhere on the album and Tull's nod to prog rock is the whopping sixteen minutes and forty seconds of Baker St. Muse, which essentially closes out the album. (There's a coda, Grace that ends it- but that's only about forty seconds long.) For those who don't know, prog rock emerged in the 70s, as a vague offshoot of psychedelic rock and according to wikipedia, they were about: 'elevating rock music to new levels of artistic credibility' Big, orchestral arrangements- instrumental tracks, generally trying to make rock almost more 'musical' than it has been before- so sixteen minute long songs aren't that uncommon, which makes old school prog rock something of an anathema to the ADHD-ridden, twitchy generation of today. We, by definition are an impatient lot, which is why, outside of Arlo Guthrie's 'Alice's Restaurant', Zeppelin's 'Stairway To Heaven' and Derek and the Dominos' 'Layla' ten to sixteen minute songs are few and far between on radio today- and if there are any super-long songs, they'll be on classic rock stations.

But that said with Minstrel, Tull scores an accessible, kick-ass album that holds itself above a lot of the prog rock I've spent a few weeks listening too because it's linear, easy to listen to and doesn't test my patience too much. But just because I am a stereotypical young person who doesn't often have the patience for twenty minute rock-songs doesn't mean that it isn't worth listening too. Especially this album.

Overall: a damn good album- skip Aqualung and go straight to this one, if you want to check out Jethro Tull. Perfect for flautists that want to prove to their friends that they're the shit, RenFair fans that want to get their rock n'roll on and people that like their rock n'roll mixed with folk, acoustic and flutes.

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