It’s not that Martin Barre wants to forget Jethro Tull—the group in which he was a member for 43 years—but he’s certainly moved on musically.
Any doubters need only listen to his latest release, Back To Steel, the 12-track album comprised primarily of his own music with three covers.
“It is really important that the band has an identity with our own music,” Barre says by phone as he heads toward a cruise ship in Miami to join Yes, Marillion and other artists on the Cruise to the Edge event to Key West.
“This has been a whole turning point musically. We will always have the Tull connection—that goes back to my roots and our fan base—but I want to take the fans with me. Essentially our musical style isn’t really changing. This album is a more direct approach to my songwriting, and our intention is to make it more workable and accessible for an audience to enjoy.”
Although the Grammy Award-winning Barre is most closely associated with Tull—he joined the band in 1969 for its second album, Stand Up, and was continually hailed by critics for his virtuosic playing—he also has a solid body of solo work and collaboration with musicians including Paul McCartney and Phil Collins. After Tull founder and frontman Ian Anderson shifted musical direction in 2011, Barre began to tour as Martin Barre’s New Day, in which his band primarily played Tull music he found fans hungered to hear.
One of the enchanting parts of Back to Steel is that Barre reimagines the Tull classic “Skating Away” and the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and reintroduces fans to Tull’s “Slow Marching Band.”
As one might expect, though, the highlights of the album are the nine original blues-rock songs. Barre doesn’t overwhelm his listeners with guitar hero riffs and solos—though he is more than capable of such feats—but instead carefully arranges the songs to weave his guitar work among lush vocals of Dan Crisp and backing vocalists and the solid percussion of drummer George Lindsay and bassist Alan Thomson.
“I started from scratch,” Barre says of writing and selecting the tracks for the album. “The only one I had an idea of what to build on was ‘Eleanor Rigby.’ I had worked on that one about 10 years ago and put it on a shelf. But I sat down and wrote the songs over about three to four weeks. That’s not always a good thing, but it worked out pretty well on this. Every day I enjoyed working on it so much.”
Although Barre had no planned agenda for the record—this is no concept album—the songs meld into a cohesive whole. Credit Barre’s lifetime love for blues-rock for that fluidity. Barre plans to continue to tour behind this album for at least a year, in both Europe and the United States, refining the music as the tours continue.
“[Jethro Tull music] will always be a part of my work,” Barre says. “But I hope it becomes about 40 percent instead of 60 percent. I will never turn my back on it, though. I’m not so stupid that I don’t know that people come to hear me play so they can hear Tull. But a lot of that music is in me, anyway. That’s not far from home. It will always be there.”