It takes a pair of brass balls to play a set of Jethro Tull numbers and not be a ‘tribute act’ featuring a posturing lead singer who stands on one leg. Martin Barre has a step up on the tribute acts as he was the lead guitarist with Tull for 43 years (!).

The story behind this album is that, during the current ‘hiatus’ of Tull, Barre decided to take to the road with a band to play some of the classics. This was so well received that they were being hounded for a live album from the shows. Barre “The festival (in Somerset) was a great success and after a very late night, we met at Middle Farm Studio, about 50 miles away, the next morning. We set the back-line up, as we do onstage, with Dan in a booth, as he, rightly, felt that it was important to record all his vocals live. Every track was one take, except for ‘Still Loving You Tonight’. Dan and I did two versions, but used the first one anyway! It was really important to keep the feel and continuity the same as a live gig. By the end of the day, we had all the songs finished”.

An album of Jethro Tull classics that don’t feature Ian Anderson sounds a little strange but Dan Crisp does an excellent job on vocals (plus acoustic and Bouzouki) and the rest of the band – George Lindsay (drums), Richard Beesley (Sax & clarinet) plus Barre on guitars and Alan Thompson on bass are quite wonderful. They do miss Anderson’s flute on occasion but this is all part of looking at the songs anew.

Bottom line is that this is a brilliant album, full of good songs and some superb playing.

The most familiar numbers such as ‘Minstrel in the Gallery’ or ‘Thick As A Brick’ take on a new lease of life with the new arrangements (not a million miles from the original but different enough) and ‘Sweet Dream’ becomes a song for the 21st Century – losing much of the overt sexuality of the original and gaining urgency and subtlety. ‘Crossroads’ is as far as you can get from Robert Johnson and using the Bouzouki somehow pulls it away from the usual Blues but keeps a sense of the original. Other favourites like ‘Song For Jeffrey’ or ‘Fat Man’ don’t stray too far from the originals but still benefit from Crisp’s vocal and the power of the band.

No Tull based album would be complete without ‘Locomotive Breath’ but taking Ian Anderson’s stylised folksy vocal out and putting all the pressure on Crisp’s vocals is genius – the song has a totally different feel and sound to the original but as a closer it is an absolute showstopper.

I have been a fan of Jethro Tull for many, many years and the thought of this album feels like it should be sacrilege but Barre has all the right to do this and his approach is to add to the music not copy it.
A superb set.