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Jethro Tull - Heavy Horses CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.04 | 1233 ratings

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4 stars I find it kind of surprising that I never noticed that the biggest difference in Jethro Tull’s sound in the eighties wasn’t necessarily their penchant for making music that was more heavy rock than progressive folk. They were guilty of that for sure, but that’s not the biggest change. As I listen to those albums now, nearly twenty years later I can hear how much the band suffered from the loss of both John Evans and David Palmer in 1980. Not that Evans was any kind of Rick Wakeman, but he brought a folksy sense of intimacy to the organ passages on this and earlier albums. That is sadly missing on any studio work that came out after 1980. And Palmer’s arrangements are much more vibrant than Anderson’s would be in the eighties, not to mention more progressive. Possibly I didn’t notice back then because 1) the band had dropped off a lot of people’s radars, including mine; and 2) so much was going to sh!t in progressive music back then that this was only a ripple in the pond.

So the dominant sounds on this (and pretty much every other Tull album) are Ian Anderson’s voice and his flute, followed Martin Barre’s very tight guitar work. So that remains unchanged from album to album. So does Anderson’s writing for the most part, particularly after about 1974. The themes here are still more about mythical figures and general life concepts rather than personal idioms such as those he would turn almost exclusively to after ‘A’. But beyond the words the music isn’t all that ambitious, and except for a few tracks there isn’t anything musically here we haven’t heard before.

“Moths” is one of those exceptions, and mostly thanks to Palmer’s arrangement. The synthesized strings and their interaction with Anderson’s flute flows quite well, and adds so much to what that track would have sounded like with only Anderson to contribute to it. Kind of like what “Journey Man” sounds like – much closer to the blander and less energetic tracks on “Rock Island” and “Catfish Rising”.

The other stellar example of how Evans and Palmer (and guest violinist Darryl Way) added important dynamics to the band is the title track. By 1978 I had largely lost interest in Tull, although there was a brief resurgence with ‘The Broadsword & the Beast’ thanks to the studio wizardry and MTV promotion. But ‘Heavy Horses’ was still a song that caught my attention simply because this return to form for the band was so distinctive and so unexpected. This is the best ‘Aqualung’ outtake ever! Not really, but you know what I mean. Anderson’s vocals are bard-like and mysterious instead of dull and plodding like they became somewhere around 1981, and the entire band contributes musically instead of simply backing up la flute d’ Ian. The whole thing works marvelously, and even today this is the one track that holds up without disclaimer out of all the band’s work between 1976 and 1989. And “Weathercock” makes for a great postlude too.

This certainly isn’t my favorite Tull album, but to be fair their most immortal work came out when I was still pre-pubescent, so I discovered those albums after-the-fact. ‘Heavy Horses’ and ‘Stormwatch’ were the first Jethro Tull albums I discovered when they were still new. For that reason they hold a little nostalgic value and I’ll admit they get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to rating them. So four stars for this one, and recommended to anyone who hasn’t actually listened to it before, which probably isn’t very many people.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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