Review Summary: One of Jethro Tull's best works and one of the most unfairly unrecognized albums ever recorded.
Playing the same music over and over again is not a very interesting career-that's why bands often change their sound, for better or worse. Therefore, it's understandable that throughout their career which spanned over forty years, Jethro Tull played a large variety of genres, ranging from blues to prog, hard rock, folk, and even (although I'd rather forget about this period in the band's history) techno. Most know about the band due to their experimentation with progressive rock, a period during which Jethro Tull released the absolutely essential Thick As A Brick and Aqualung. However, relatively few people are familiar with the band's folk outings, which is a shame, as one of these folkish albums, Heavy Horses, not only deserves a place in every music lover's collection, but is also one of the band's strongest and most consistent works.
While the band plays skilfully on almost all of their albums, their performance on Heavy Horses is remarkable and, frankly, on of the band's best. Ian Anderson's vocals are the best of his career, and he displays a large variety of emotions throughout the album. He can be playful on songs such as One Brown Mouse
, nostalgic and energetic, as seen throughout the title track, and valiant on songs such as Weathercock
. Most notably, he sounds convincing and genuine on every song. This album also features his most heartfelt and sincere performance of his entire career on the song Moths
. Anderson's flute playing is prominently displayed throughout the album's ten songs, and he is given some fantastic and moving solos which further strengthen the band's unique sound and help establish them as one of the most diverse progressive acts.
Martin Barre, one of the most underrated blues guitarists, once again offers an exemplary performance. His solos are powerful and melodic, as are his riffs, and his unique style of guitar playing provides a perfect accompaniment to Ian Anderson's softer acoustic guitar, flute, and voice. However, his work is not a focal point of this album, as the band chose to write more soft songs, causing a smaller reliance on electric instruments. However, wherever Barre shows up, he is most definitely welcomed, and he has some fantastic leads, such as the hard rock solo at the end of Weathercock
or the crushing blues rock epic that is No Lullaby
John Evan, the keyboardist, is not heard very often on the album, and his only significant appearance is on the title track, but he plays very competently. However, the keyboards are not as spectacular and amazing as they were on the band's defining album, Thick As A Brick. Barriemore Barlow's drumming is as virtuosic and impressive as on previous albums, but he is not displayed as frequently as on past albums, with the focus being on Ian Anderson's voice. However, he is still an essential component of the band, as is proved by his lightning fast playing on One Brown Mouse
and his militaristic drum beats on Weathercock
John Glascock, the bassist, is given an unusually large role for a folk album. He has many enjoyable baselines, such as the playful riffs found on Acres Wild
and the wonderful intro to the title track. The bass is always audible, even when it echos the guitar's melodies, and at times is as loud, if not louder, than Barre's playing. While arguably inferior to the band's previous bassist, Jeffrey Hammond, Glascock does a wonderful job throughout the whole album.
Heavy Horse's greatest strength is the marvelous songwriting, as the album is filled with the perfect examples of folk music at it's best. A fine example of this is the closing song, Weathercock
. The song is built around a simple vocal melody, originally starting with just a mandolin accompanying Ian's voice, but soon enough, Martin Barre's mellow guitar is introduced. Then, drums reminiscent of civil war-era military music join in, along with a melodic baseline. Finally, Ian's flute enters, leading the song into pure bliss.
The title track, Heavy Horses
, is undoubtedly supposed to be the focal point of the album. Clocking in at just under nine minutes, this is one of Tull's most passionate songs, and it showcases the talent of each of the band members. The song frequently changes moods, from peaceful to nostalgic, and then it crescendos into a violin-driven climax, calming down again, but then ending fiercely.
While the band expected the nine minute long, epic title track to be the highlight of this album, this is not the case. Instead, the simple, three-and-a-half minute Moths
is. Frankly, this song is filled with sincere emotion and some of the most graceful melodies ever written. Ian's vocal performance is his strongest to date, the flute solo is ravishing, the string arrangement in the background perfectly accompanies the band. The lyrics are beautiful and fit he music perfectly. Words do not do this song justice.
As much as I love this album, I must admit that it has some flaws. Most importantly, John Evan, one of the better prog keyboardists, is very underused. His talent is one of the main reasons that I value Thick As A Brick so much, and I wish that he was used more on Heavy Horses. Also, as good as No Lullaby
is, it feels too heavy for this album and disrupts it's flow so severely that whenever I listen to the album from beginning to end, I tend to skip the song.
Heavy Horses is one of Jethro Tull's most beautiful albums and one of the most criminally underrated albums ever recorded. If you ever were even mildly interested in this band, folk music, or progressive rock, I cannot stress how much you need to buy this album.