The secret of Jethro Tull’s longevity is that the band always plays its cards sparingly. For example, “No Lullaby,” one of Heavy Horses’ two epics, deploys an extensive catalog of aurally exciting effects: flanged drums, echo on the vocal, a mightily distorted guitar cadenza. But each item appears only momentarily, to nudge the slow dirge into grandeur. Another case in point is “Acres Wild,” a simple love song that’s wrought entirely from the differences in timbre between Ian Anderson’s mandolin and guest Darryl Way’s electric fiddle. Similarly, Tull restrains its tonality to basic chord changes and folk-song melodies. But the rhythms are lavish — particularly the instrumental arrangements, where no two players are allowed the same part.
Heavy Horses is merely the followup to last year’s Songs from the Wood, which may well have been the group’s best record ever. Anderson warns that this is the end of the folk-tinged Tull, that the band will return to boogie forthwith. That’s a pity because this genre has suited Jethro Tull wonderfully.