Sunday, 26 October 2014

Martin Barre, the underrated guitar master

Well, I wasn’t planning to write about this man, at least not now. However, I’ll see him play live in about three weeks and I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to write a tiny bit about him. By the way, I’m talking about Martin Barre, longtime Jethro Tull guitarist, no longer with the band (or should I just say the band is no more?). I saw Ian Anderson perform Thick as a Brick and Thick as a Brick 2 in 2012 and, while I loved the concert, it almost hurt not to see Martin at his side (no offence to Florian Opahle, it’s just that I would have loved to see the classic thing). But now I’ll see Martin live, and while it’s on his own (I doubt it’ll be as good as Tull), I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s a dream come true.

Monsieur Barre is not a young lad anymore. He’ll be 68 in barely a month, and he has been on the road for decades. He wasn’t with Tull from the beginning, but he did play for their second album, Stand Up. I’ve read online (which means this may be true, or not) that in his first audition to get in the band, he forgot the pick for his guitar; in his second one, he was so nervous he could barely play. He was finally successful in his third attempt.

I can’t help liking the guy. It’s not only that he’s an extremely underrated guitarist (Mark Knopfler called his guitar work with Tull “magical”), but from what I’ve read and heard, he also seems to be a really shy and humble person. Ok, shy is not necessarily good, but I find it almost cute that someone who has played in front of thousands of people and who was part of one of the biggest rock bands in the early seventies can be that shy. Maybe it’s also that I like shy people because I’m a bit shy too, no idea. The only thing I don’t like about him is that, apparently, his favourite Tull album is Under Wraps. Sure, sure, it’s a matter of taste and stuff, but Under Wraps is an atrocity compared to 98% of the Tull catalogue. Well, I guess I’ll be kind enough to forgive him.

It makes no sense talking about his time with Tull, at least not much. This blog has plenty of other posts for that. I will say, however, that while Ian Anderson is credited for 99% of the stuff Tull did, Martin made apparently some “additional contributions” to Songs from the Wood, and collaborated more than usual in the Grammy-awarded Crest of a Knave. Anyway, here are a few solos from his time with Tull  (update: a few of them have been deleted recently so I had to add others).

I’d talk about his solo albums, although there’s not that much to say. They’re good, but not that good. There are six of them; I haven’t listened to the last one (Order of Pay), to the 2013 one (Away With Words) and to A Summer Band (even if I do have that one in my laptop); I have barely listened to The Meeting (it hasn’t really hooked me); finally, there’s Stage Left, and most of all, A Trick of Memory, which are the two albums by him I really like. Check his guitar playing in stuff like Empty Cafe or I Be Thank You... Martin is like wine, the older he gets, the better. Sure, not as loud, rocking and cocky as Aqualung, for example (his solo there was ranked the 25th best of all time by the Guitar Player magazine, by the way), but classier. If you listen to the stuff he does in The Jethro Tull Christmas Album, from 2003, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Songs like Pavane, We Five Kings and A Winter Snowscape (which is also featured on his album Stage Left) show you don’t have to play loud and fast to play well. Also, it’s interesting to note how his solo albums are more of a team effort than a vehicle to showcase himself, he doesn’t seem to be really interested in soloing.

One can’t be a member of Tull for decades and play only one instrument, so Martin Barre doesn’t play only the guitar (which may count as two, as he plays acoustic and electric); he also plays the flute (check out Stage Fright), bouzouki, mandolin, sax (which he played before joining Tull) and clarinet (which he apparently played on his last album).

Another little fun fact. I’m almost, almost sure that I read how he met his wife in an Ian Anderson interview. I think, for some reason, it was during the Minstrel in the Gallery tour, or at least not too far away in time. The band was, I believe, at an airport, and Ian was surprised when Martin, in a very un-Martin-ish way, crushed his shyness and offered a young woman who was there a ticket for the concerts, not without chivalrously assuring her that his intentions were not dangerous at all. The rest is history.

So this is Martin Lancelot Barre, the man I’ll see in concert the 15th of November. I don’t really know what happened with Tull and why he and Ian split up, but he looks to be doing very fine on his own. A true guitar master who keeps on rocking after more than four decades of touring, with Tull or on his own.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Eric Clapton & B.B. King: a combination that can't go wrong

Five or six years ago, one of my best friends made me listen to a song she thought I’d like. After about forty seconds, I asked her to send me the whole album. Immediately. Not doing it was not an option.

What can I say, Riding with the King is a very catchy song, the kind of track that makes your brain think “... hey this sounds good...” after ten seconds and something like “...HEY THIS IS MY NEW FAVOURITE SONG EVER” after twenty. So, once I was home, I quickly and hungrily proceeded to listen to the whole album, which has the same name and which, in case you’re a bit lost, is a joint effort by Eric Clapton and BB King. God and the King, can it get any better?

As a matter of fact, it can. I mean, it’s a fantastic album, with those two guys playing and singing, it just can’t be bad. However, I can’t help thinking that it could have been better somehow. Behind their voices and their guitars (man, they can play) it sometimes seems they’re just trying to impress a pretty girl. A lot of show and sometimes (only sometimes) not so much substance. Hard to explain, and I’m clearly not doing it right. Again, I don’t want to be too harsh, it’s just that my first impression of the album was excellent and, as the time goes, I find myself liking it a little bit less.

Maybe The Road to Escondido is to blame a bit, too. I got both albums at approximately the same time, and while I liked Riding with the King a lot more at first, I’ve slowly realized that I’m more into the mellow sound Clapton achieved with JJ Cale, with their voices and their guitars melting together and sounding as one, than into the “here I am” louder and rawer sounds of this album. Raw in a way, because it actually sounds very clean, maybe almost too clean. Both albums are fantastic, but I can’t help comparing them sometimes, and when I do, Cale wins.

Still, it's just a matter of taste, and if you like blues, this recording is a must. Some songs from BB King from the fifties and sixties are played and also classics from other musicians, for example Key to the Highway, which Clapton had played with Derek and the Dominos and also on his own. The title track is a composition by John Hiatt with the help of producer and songwriter Scott Matthews, who provided the lyrical content to Hiatt by telling him about a strange dream he had of flying on an airplane with Elvis Presley.

By the way, at the time of the recording, BB King was 74, and not only his guitar skills were still excellent, but his voice too. It’s a pleasure to listen to him, be it in catchier and slightly faster songs such as Marry You, I Wanna Be or Days of Old or in slower and somewhat bluesier ones such as Three O’Clock Blues (ladies and gentlemen, that is blues), Worried Life Blues or When my Heart Beats like a Hammer. Talking about voices, Clapton's one has a raspiness in some songs (Hold On, I'm Coming!) we don't often hear.

In conclusion... if you feel like listening to some good guitars, go get this album. Classy stuff.

P.S: I just moved to another city, started new (and apparently hard) studies, etc. This means I probably won't have so much time to write, so my posts will take a bit longer, although I'll write them in less time, like this one. I hope some of you still enjoy this stuff!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

MANdolinMAN: yes, they play the mandolin

Today I’ll write about mandolins. The mandolin is one of my favourite instruments. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea, but it sounds so folksy, and it’s so cool, and end of the story. If someone bought me one for my birthday, I’d learn how to play and become a minstrel. And all the girls would love my songs. Ok, I went too far there.

There’s a reason I’m writing things that don’t make sense at all. Actually, there’s two. First of all, I’m tired, so don’t expect me to write anything interesting. Or logical. Second, there’s no way to find information about the band I want to talk to, and I can’t say too much about them either, so I have to fill this post with gibberish. Thanks, I’m sure you’ll excuse me.

Of course, there are people in this band who plays the mandolin. In fact, we’re talking about the ultimate mandolin band: we’re talking about MANdolinMAN (yes, they write it like that). MANdolinMAN is a mandolin quartet from Belgium, founded in the summer of 2011.

In their first album, Old Tunes, Dusted Town, these guys played traditional Flemish music. The album is specifically a tribute to Hubert Bone, whose son is one of the four members. Andries, as well as Dirk Naessens, play mandolin, while Maarten Decombel plays mandocello and Peter- Jan Daems plays mandola. The quartet used Huber Boone’s notations to play local melodies from the small villages from Flanders.

There’s not much I can say about this, except that the guys can play and the sound is incredibly clean. It’s simple: if you like folk and you like mandolins, give them a chance. If not, well, give them a chance anyway, but don’t hate me. I personally love all the songs here.

Here are links for a couple of songs. UPDATE: I had uploaded the whole album, but a member of the band wrote to me politely asking me to remove most of the tracks. It's totally understandable, they don't have a huge fanbase at the moment and if everyone downloaded their CD online, they'd get no money. So I apologize to them and encourage you guys to buy their music if you like it.

SECOND UPDATE: my channel has been deleted, so there is not much MANdolinMAN online... here's a little preview of what you can get if you listen to their music.

MANdolinMAN recently produced a second album, MANdolinMAN Plays Bossa Nova. I’ve listened to some little parts in amazon (I think) and it sounded damn fine, but I won’t buy it for now, not too much money around lately. 

I guess this is it for today. This is a purely informative post, as I’m sure most of you don’t know this band. Also, I’m moving out in the next few days and I’m terribly busy so, as the next proper post will have to wait, I wanted to write something, a tiny thing, whatever. Hopefully there’s someone out there who enjoys this stuff half as much as I do.

P.S: here's the link for the facebook page, in case there are more people with a geeky taste in music that they need to share: