Ex-Tull axeman still looking for adventure.
Prog has its fair share of guitar heroes. The likes of Steve Howe, Robert Fripp and Steve Hackett have all been rightly lauded. Martin Barre has arguably received fewer plaudits. Connoisseurs, however, have long known that any guitarist who could handle the batshit arrangements of Ian Anderson in Thick As A Brick mode deserves some props. In some ways, a guitarist’s guitarist (his fans include Mark Knopfler and Steve Vai), Barre’s solo work reveals his considerable gifts as a songwriter as much as his axe skills.
Roads Less Travelled, Barre’s seventh solo album, both builds on and departs from 2015’s Back To Steel. The continuity is found in Barre’s mastery of hard rock. It’s shown especially on the Whitesnake-worthy (This is My) Driving Song, as well as the groovy title track, where vocalist Dan Crisp sits back beautifully on the riffage. It’s fantastically catchy fist-pumping rock. However, where Back To Steel acted as a retrospective over a 50-year career and included some covers of old favourites, Roads Less Travelled shows the 70-something Barre still looking forward.
Barre always had the gift of placing his virtuosity at the service of the song. In addition to Crisp, Roads Less Travelled features vocals from Becca Lansford and Alex
Hart. Whether serving up power chords or exquisite folkinspired progressions, Barre wants the singer to be heard. Mind you, his licks on medieval folk instrumental Trinity are breathtaking. They combine both harmonic richness and melodic skill – the listener is transported away to tales of lost castles and gallant knights, and it all leaves you in no doubt of the incalculable contribution Barre made to Tull’s sound.
Even on more straightforward jazz blues grooves like
And The Band Plays On, Barre’s guitar takes a road less travelled – his soloing doesn’t seek to dominate but weaves carefully in and out of a smart rhythm section and organ playing. He just wants this tale of ballroom dancing (that’s right!) to take centre stage.
A severe critic might suggest that a track like Badcore
Blues – with its Ry Cooder-esque slides and its refrains of
‘I’m in too deep’ – run a little too close to blues by numbers, but that would be quibbling. There is so much on this album – from the energetic fusion of rock and folk in opener Lone Wolf through to the beautiful You Are An Angel – to inspire and delight fans, old and new.
Barre allegedly claimed that he’d never had a guitar lesson in his life. Rather, he wanted to find his own style and vision of playing. Roads Less Travelled makes the listener glad he followed his distinctive path.
YOU’RE TRANSPORTED BY HARMONIC RICHNESS AND MELODIC SKILL.