Album review: MARTIN BARRE – 50 Years Of Jethro Tull (2-CD)

On Sunday 18 October, Martin Barre chatted to Pete Feenstra for Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, about his time in Tull and beyond. (40:33)

MARTIN BARRE - 50 Years Of Jethro Tull

The Store For Music [Release date 16.10.20]

The first thing to say is that the cover, both inside and out, of this 50 year celebration is a tad misleading.  You could be forgiven for thinking that it is a retrospective of Martin Barre’s Tull career to date drawn from original sources.

In actual fact, it is essentially studio re-recordings of his career with Tull that was sold on his merch stand during 2019.  And, perhaps frustratingly for fans, now replete with the ubiquitous bonus tracks although in fairness they are grabbed from a forthcoming DVD which should also be an essential purchase.

Barre’s 50 year gig in 2019 was one of the highlights of the year when our reviewer Alan Jones commented “… in much the same way as Steve Hackett has done with the Genesis legacy – (he) has put together an outstanding group of musicians to both perpetuate ‘Tull’s awesome 50 year legacy and, perhaps, to demonstrate what an intrinsic part of the ‘Tull sound he was (is) in his own right.”

Stretched over two CDs, this album is testimony to Barre’s good taste and a great band, with Dan Crisp on vocals adding much to the proceedings.  A bit like Nad Sylvain with Steve Hackett’s Genesis material he is close enough to the original vocal approach without being a copyist.  He’s also pretty nifty on second guitar.  Bassist Alan Thomson and Darby Todd (drums) provide a formidable rhythm section but keyboard player Josiah J is used sparingly.

You can best describe Barre’s guitar work throughout as muscular and economical, which brings fresh breath to the hallowed catalogue.  Like Hackett with the Genesis material, he has carefully and cleverly updated the arrangements where necessary such as on ‘Love Story’.  Only occasionally does the guitarist fail to ignite former wig outs like ‘Hunting Girl’.

But it’s Disc 2 which is the real revelation.  The anniversary gig in 2019 was highlighted by an acoustic segment with Alex Hart and Becca Langsford on vocals.  They lend their talents to 9 of the 15 tracks including ‘The Waking Edge’ with John Carter on lead vocals and a sublime ‘Life Is A Long Song’.  In fact the addition of female lead vocals – harking back to Barre’s 1996 solo album ‘The Meeting’ – is a deft touch.  ‘Locomotive Breath’ in particular benefits from a less predictable “slowed down” rootsy feel akin to something Larkin Poe or Wildwood Kin might perform.

There’s a liner note insert from Barre but sadly no reference to the circumstances of this recording, not least the approach to repurposing and reshaping.

The four live bonuses were recorded in the USA in May 2019 and include ‘Bungle In The Jungle’ and ‘Heavy Horses’ perhaps lacking the heft of old but still very relevant.

When he started out in solo form Barre tended to focus on the earlier years of the Tull songbook, this compilation includes a healthy cross-section of the repertoire so – for example – we get ‘Steel Monkey’ rubbing shoulders with ‘Teacher’ and a wonderful  ‘Under Wraps’ with ‘Cheap Day Return’.

When I interviewed Martin not long after his breakaway from Tull, in 2014, I laboured the fact that he never derived income from the songs, nearly all attributed to Ian Anderson, even though his guitar playing was integral and intrinsic to each.

Of course this is typical industry practice but the more enlightened bands would now perhaps be more generous in their attribution.  When you recall, for example, that Barre’s solo on ‘Aqualung’ (absent here, by the way) was definitive you would also better understand that premise.

You get the sense that this was never discussed with Anderson who ruled the roost whilst his loyal lieutenant stamped his indelible imprint over a forty year period.  Whilst the records are still selling, and the band gigging,  that might be OK but once sales dry up (or less lucrative digital kicks in) and the band no longer tours regularly then the gravy train grinds to a halt.

With Tull in his rear view mirror Martin should be applauded for striking out on his own and fashioning new music amongst the classics.  In normal non-Covid times, there is arguably more chance of hearing time-worn Tull classics with Barre than with Anderson.  And he even plays flute! ****1/2

Review by David Randall

Gig review (June 2019)

Josh Taerk’s latest Sunday Session was streamed on Sunday 20 March 2022 at 21:00 GMT (16:00 EST). Josh’s next session is Sunday 22 May.

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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 GMT, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 8 May 2022.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020 and 2021 Finalist) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 GMT as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 3 May 2022.

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