Review: "Back to Steel" by Martin Barre

by Andy Snipper, Music-News.com

Martin Barre is one of those guitarists who often misses out on the awards and recognition but who, when you hear him, is one of the best musicians around.

This album celebrates 50 (yes 50) years of playing saxophone and guitar and returns him to his roots, playing electric guitars with steel strings.

Right from the title track he mixes it up, playing with fluidity and flexibility whether he is playing rock or edging towards prog and throws in some sterling melodies and riffing alongside his songwriting which is generally excellent.

The main instrument throughout is Barre’s guitar but his vocals are pretty tasty, especially on numbers like Bad Man where his growled vocals go perfectly against a resonator acoustic. Back To Steel is pure rock with shrieking guitar set against a dark and heavy bass line while Hammer reaches an almost jazz like melody. When he softens his stance, as he does on the lovely Chasing Shadows, he shows a remarkable lyrical side to his playing.

There are references to his 42 years with Jethro Tull on two cover versions – Skating Away has him singing in similar vein to Ian Anderson and shows his prowess on mandolin and Slow Marching Band where his vocals are pure and clean, giving a new interpretation of a great song that works on every level. Smokestack is a paean to Howlin’ Wolf with music and lyrics added to the original by Barre – I’m not sure if Hubert Sumlin would recognize it though. The final cover is a version of the Beatles Eleanor Rigby where he adds power to the classic and in doing so modernizes it and takes away some of the sentimentality of the song.

Peace And Quiet is a true Blues number while You And I sees him in a folky vein.

There isn’t a bad track on the album and, while it doesn’t set any new standards, you come away from it satisfied and refreshed in admiration for one of the best around.

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