Pleasantly mines the British folk rock tradition.
With Martin Barre no longer in the Jethro Tull camp he takes to the solo path with Roads Less Traveled. A capable performer who has recorded under his own name since the ‘90s, this collection lacks the bite of an Ian Anderson-led release in the lyrical and vocal department but still pleasantly mines the British folk rock tradition. And fortunately, one aspect of his music retains some grit: the guitar.
“Out of Time” finds Barre calling to mind contemporaries such as Richard Thompson and Andy Powell (Wishbone Ash) as he snakes his way through sinewy six-string figures that hit with remarkable potency. “Badcore Blues” takes us to some imaginary delta deep in the English countryside, replete with tales of hard times and a long road ahead. “For No Man” is deeply melodic ramble that in its best moments summons Mark Knopfler’s recent statesmanlike work.
Lyrically there are flourishes of fighting the good fight, staying true to one’s self and other well-worn tropes. Barre lets the instruments do the most convincing talking such as on the country-ish piece “Trinity,” on which he further marks his territory as one of the premiere instrumentalists of his kind. He can’t resist turning in a “Teacher”-esque “Seattle,” which will bring a smile to the face of Tull fans even if the lyrics stretch out a little wide in the margins. Even the hook doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue with particular ease. Perhaps it’s one of his few nods to traditional progressive rock here, a stab at something ambitious in conceit but perhaps too conceptual to reach full execution. The title piece and opening “Lone Wolf” are amusing if not always filled with the same sense of urgency heard elsewhere.
It’s unlikely Barre will snare a new audience here as he’s a quantity long tethered to the band he served in with valor for so long. Fans eager to hear him rip and snort like a charging rhino will have to look elsewhere but his melodic passages and soaring leads are frequently sublime even when the songs that house them aren’t.
The closing “And the Band Played Only for Me” revisits British blues rock with deep authenticity but sans eye-popping urgency. Jazzy melodic lines keep the eyebrows raised for a time at least but soon the song sinks into a sameness that seems to plague the rest of the album. If we’re going solely on the artist’s legacy, it’s a quite good record. Taken on its own, it’s a fair showing from a legendary musician who could benefit from stronger collaborators and material.
Word is that Barre and former bandmate Ian Anderson are no longer on speaking terms, and the latter’s recent run of gigs with a new band of merrymakers makes it seem unlikely the pair will work together again. That’s too bad given that, when they played side by side, their individual creativity made up more than the sum of its parts.