Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Traffic - The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

This FM radio hit album was probably my real introduction into Traffic. Of course, I had heard their Top Forty hit "Paper Sun" before, but I doubt that much else had stuck with me until this became a must-have record for any and every stoner in the early 70's. Led by Steve Winwood, this version of Traffic reformed after his stint in Blind Faith, which helped with its popularity. Joined by Jim Capaldi on vocals and percussion, along with Chris Wood (sax/flute), Rick Gretch (bass/violin - who also played in Blind Faith), Jim Gordon on drums and percussionist Reebop Kwaku Baah, they mixed their rock and r'n'b roots with folk, jazz and whatever else came to mind!

Opening with the flute-led "Hidden Treasure" that hearkens back to the traditional sounds of John Barleycorn Must Die, they also show growth and expansion in this mellow introduction. Of course, the title cut is one of their best known numbers, mixing jazz (it has nods to "Take Five" in its rhythm) with rock, with excellent use of dynamics, Steve's terrific vocals and lyrics, treated sax interplaying with the melody and fine piano work. Of course, the long instrumental break may put off some people, but I find it to be a wonderful workout. Jim takes lead vocals on the cheekily upbeat "Light Up of Leave My Alone" - talk about singing directly to your audience! - where Steve gets to show off on guitar (he was equally adept at both git and keys) - and he also sings lead on "Rock & Roll Stew", a groove-filled riff-rocker with more cool guitar licks from Steve. "Many A Mile To Freedom" is a bit of a light-weight folk-pop number that is nice enough but I don't find it as memorable as the rest of the album, though it does have some nice instrumental work. The vinyl ended with "Rainmaker", another flute-led, harmony-driven piece of updated traditional-sounding English folk. Nice and dramatic use of vocals and dynamics making it a stand-out number. For the CD, there is a bonus track with a US single release of "Rock & Roll Stew" that has an extended break in it, but otherwise is not particularly different.

Certainly not a wild rock'n'roll album, but a nice bit of jazz/folk/rock, played and sang by some of the best of the time.