"The first solo album from Jethro Tull's legendary guitarist," reads a back cover note, but that isn't true. Stage Left is actually Martin Barre's third album made up primarily of guitar-driven rock instrumentals, following Trick of Memory (1994) and The Meeting (1996). But it is the first of his albums to earn release in the U.S. Barre's sound will be familiar to anyone who's been listening to his playing with Jethro Tull since he joined the group in 1969. He takes a highly textured approach, playing electric rock guitar much of the time as if he was playing English folk music on an acoustic. Sometimes, of course, he is actually playing an acoustic, and then the music is steeped in tradition while also having rock trappings. Yet Barre is anything but a typical rock guitar god. He has no real interest in soloing. When he does go for a heavy rock tune such as on "Murphy's Law," the melody, while often tricky and complicated, is logical and strictly followed. Barre's playing is always elegant, even when he's rocking hard, and always sounds like it's been worked out far in advance. Employing Jethro Tull members Jonathan Noyce and Andy Giddings, along with Darren Mooney on drums and, on the final track, "Don't Say a Word," Simon Burrett on vocals, Barre often recalls the sound of Jethro Tull, especially when he throws in some of his own flute playing. His music defeats the notion that the band is simply a vehicle for leader Ian Anderson, but on the other hand it can sometimes feel incomplete because one is used to hearing it married to Anderson's voice and lyrics.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann