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Jethro Tull

Heavy Horses

Review by Scott Prinzing

Jethro Tull’s 1978 release, Heavy Horses, sits in the middle of what many Tull fans consider a folk-influenced trilogy, beginning with Songs from the Wood (1977) and ending with Stormwatch (1979).  These three albums are the pinnacle of the Tull legacy.  While it’s hard to argue for any other than the ubiquitous Aqualung (1971), Ian Anderson’s songwriting and the musicianship of this line-up are matchless.  Inspired by the folk music and legends of the British Isles, and the traditional lifeways Anderson was experiencing as a farmer and rancher in rural Scotland, Heavy Horses and the tour that supported it helped cement Tull’s place in rock history.  Anyone who wants to explore beyond the essential Aqualung should pick up one of these three albums next; although, I highly recommend purchasing every studio album from 1971 through 1982 (you can be forgiven for passing over Too Old to Rock and Roll: Too Young to Die!, but that’s as far as I’ll go).  Another must is Crest of a Knave, the 1988 Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Performance GRAMMY-winning album (justifiably so, no matter what Metallica fans thought). (That’s Scott’s opinion, which does not represent the views of Music Street Journal – although, perhaps the committee should have left the “hard rock” off the title of the award or made it two separate categories, but certainly Jethro Tull is as far removed from heavy metal as Jennifer Lopez is from real music. – ed.)

When this album was first released on vinyl, it had four songs per side, with an inner sleeve featuring all the lyrics by Anderson.  The forest green color scheme framed a cover photo of Anderson in traditional country attire leading two Shire horses, while the back group photo had the band dressed as country gentlemen in tuxedos, drinking cocktails in a wood-paneled study.  While the lyrics are decidedly rural in origin, they are of a more contemporary nature than the mythopoetic verse of Songs from the Wood.  The 2003 CD reissue includes two bonus tracks from the same era; both were previously released on compilations in the ’90s.  (Oddly, the excellent, “Beltane,” recorded during these sessions, was included on the Songs from the Wood re-master, perhaps because it fit better thematically.)

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 5 at

Track by Track Review
...And the Mouse Police Never Sleeps

Who but Ian Anderson would think to write a song about mice keeping nightwatch for barn cats on the prowl?  The music is frantic, with intense syncopation capturing the scampering and nervous disposition of mice, stopping for moments of silence, like a mouse who thinks it can’t be seen by the hunter cat, “Lying in the cherry tree,” who, “Eats but one in every ten / Leaves the others on the land.”  The Renaissance interplay of organ and flute amazes me every time I listen.  This is truly one of Tull’s most memorable album openers.

Acres Wild
Anderson’s mandolin and Martin Barre’s electric guitar compliment each other quite nicely on this track.  It’s hard to believe this song also includes intricate bass, drums, organ and strings, while never sounding cluttered or overbearing.  “Come with me to the winged isle.”
No Lullaby
Barriemore Barlow gets to showcase his subtle, but fanciful drum technique on this eight-minute concert favorite, justifying all those toms surrounding him.  “Come right out with your rattle in hand / Thrust and parry, light.”  Anderson utilizes his trademark lower register harmonies here, leaving one to wonder how many Tull Albums there were in the collections of Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley. 
If you thought mouse police were intriguing, how about a song about kamikaze moths in a mating ritual cum suicide pact?  “And we soared on powdered wings.”  Mandolin and harpsichord flitter about with the abandon of moths drawn to the flicker of a lantern’s flame to great effect.  “Dipping and weaving / Flutter through the golden needle’s eye / In our haystack madness / On a Springtide high.”
John Glascock’s punchy bass lines underscore the modern nomadic theme of this song.  Once again, Anderson’s lyrics are far from common, with twists of phrase like, “Journeyman goes tripping on the late fantastic,” and “Frosty flakes on empty platforms / Fireside slippers waiting. Flip. Flop.”
Barlow gets to play a bit of tuned percussion on this ode to a loyal four-legged friend.  “So slip the chain and I’m off again / You’ll find me everywhere.”  The Baroque instrumental passages give evidence of the musical prowess of this unmatched troupe of talented rockers. 
One Brown Mouse
Another rodent dedicated ode, inspired this time by Scottish poet Robert Burns, who would have written this song, as Anderson says on this tour’s magnificent live album, Bursting Out!, “Had he been able to tune his guitar in open-E tuning.”  The instrumental passages here draw more from Medieval courtesan music than Baroque, again demonstrating the musical literacy of Anderson and his band of merry men.
Heavy Horses
The album’s centerpiece is this nine-minute epic that sings the praises of the trusty farm horse, while lamenting the passage of its necessity for plowing the soil.  “Now you’re down to the queue / And there’s no work to do / The tractor’s on its way.”  The video for the song crowds the band into the loft of a barn, with keyboardist John Evan stuffed with hay like a scarecrow; proving that these prog masters always deliver the most high-minded lyric with a nod and a wink. 
One of Anderson’s most imaginative lyrics questions the mystery of this most obvious of farm ornaments, the black rooster-topped weather vane.  David Palmer’s portative pipe organ supports Anderson’s mandolin as he animates the blacksmith’s creation.  Barlow adds a nice dash of glockenspiel.  “Do you simply reflect changes in the patterns of the sky / Or is it true they say the weather heads the winkle in your eye?”
Living in These Hard Times
Unlike many groups whose albums include a bit of filler, Tull’s leftovers leave one wondering how they cold have overlooked such gems at the time of their recording.  This song (the first bonus track of the set) about the economic hardship facing so many in the late-70s might even “Well the fly’s in the milk / And the cat’s in the stew / Another bun’s in the oven / Oh, what to do?” 
Broadford Bazaar
Adept on countless instruments, Anderson accompanies himself only on acoustic guitar and flute here.  This song is thematically right in line with this album, but musically, probably too cheery for this slightly dark sounding collection (just the opposite situation from the aforementioned “Beltane”).  Not only does Anderson seem to use a word or two rarely – if ever – found in rock and roll in every song, he also manages to find new and clever rhymes.  Who else could rhyme “Where once stood oil rigs so phallic” with “There’s only swear words in Gaelic?”
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