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Martin Barre

Back to Steel

Review by Gary Hill

Not everything here is progressive rock. Given Martin Barre’s extensive tenure as the guitarist for Jethro Tull, though, I think just about any album he’d do, I would land under prog. Add to that the fact that a lot of this music does qualify, and it’s an obvious fit. However you describe the music, though, this is great stuff.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Back to Steel

Overall this is a bluesy rocker. It has some hints of heavy metal. It’s also got some instrumental breaks that bring it closer to the prog end of the spectrum. The guitar on this is tasteful and yet screaming.

It's Getting Better
The opening section of this is pretty much pure progressive rock. It sounds a lot like Jethro Tull really. From there we’re brought into an AOR kind of movement. There is a drop back to mellower stuff after that. As it works back out to another prog jam, it’s obvious this is no simple song. It’s complex and compelling. Somehow I’m reminded a little (at different times) of both Yes and Frank Zappa.
Bad Man
This is unusual. It has a lot of old time blues with some great guitar fills. The vocals at times make me think of Lemmy. Yet there are proggy sections to the piece. The folk break is both magical and prog-oriented. As odd as this is, it works really well.
Skating Away
Here we get a treatment of a Tull song. If anything this is more folk oriented and more proggy than the original. In some ways it’s quite faithful. If you like the original, you are sure to like this – it’s close enough to make that true. Yet, you’ll never mistake this for the actual Tull version.
Chasing Shadows
This short instrumental has a lot of progressive rock built in along with folk and even some blues. It’s an effective number.
Hammer
Here we get the crunchy end of the prog instrumental jam concept. This isn’t far removed from Tull in a lot of ways. It has some great moments. It also has drop backs to dreamier territory.
You and I
This mellow cut combines folk music, classical and prog sensibilities. It’s not one of my favorites here, but it’s effective nonetheless.
A Moment of Madness
A scorching hot rocker, this one leans toward metal. Still, there are some AOR prog elements.
Calafel
Now, this folk-like instrumental really does feel like something that would have been on a Tull album. It’s intricate and quite pretty. It’s also very proggy.
Eleanor Rigby
I love this Beatles reworking. It’s got a heavy metal edge. It might not be prog, but it sure is cool. There are some proggier sections later in the track, though.
Peace and Quiet
Here we get a full on traditional electric blues jam. It’s quite tasty. It really works well.
Sea of Vanity
This is the kind of old world music inspired tune that one expects from Jethro Tull. It has a mellower movement for the majority of it, but powers up into a harder rocking version of itself later.
Smokestack
Built on the shell of a Howlin’ Wolf song, this is very cool. It has heavy metal in the mix, but also jazz and lots of prog. It’s still set in a lot of ways on the traditional blues sound, but there is a lot more going on here than that.
Without Me
The opening section, which recurs, makes me think of a mix of Yes and The Allman Brothers. The cut shifts out to a more mainstream rocker from there, but this is another cool slab of blues inspired proggy music.
Slow Marching Band
The closer is another that Barre first did with Jethro Tull. Mainstream rock, folk and prog all merge on this. It’s an effective piece that balances mellower and more rocking sections well.
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