TRAFFIC — John Barleycorn Must Die

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TRAFFIC - John Barleycorn Must Die cover
4.23 | 12 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 1970

Filed under Jazz Related Rock


1. Glad (6:59)
2. Freedom Rider (5:29)
3. Empty Pages (4:36)
4. Stranger to Himself (3:55)
5. John Barleycorn (6:26)
6. Every Mother's Son (7:06)

Total Time: 34:33

2011 Delux Edition bonus CD:

01. Stranger To Himself (Alternative Mix)
02. John Barleycorn (Must Die) (First Version)
03. Every Mother's Son (Alternative Mix)
04. Back Stage and Introduction
05. Medicated Goo (Live)
06. Empty Pages (Live)
07. Forty Thousant Headmen (Live)
08. Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring? (Live)
09. Every Mother's Son (Live)
10. Glad / Freedom Rider (Live)


Jim Capaldi Drums, Percussion, Tambourine, Vocals
Steve Winwood Composer, Flute, Guitar (Acoustic), Guitar (Bass), Instrumentation, Organ, Percussion, Piano, Piano (Electric),Vocals
Chris Wood Electric Saxophone, Flute, Organ, Percussion, Saxophone

About this release

Island Records ILPS 9116 (Europe),Polydor (Canada), United Artists (US)

Re-released in 2011 as Deluxe Edition with bonus CD (on Universal-Island)

Thanks to snobb for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

As you must know, jazz is more than just weird chords and wild horns or flights of improvisaton and extraordinary musical concepts. It's an attitude more than anything else no matter what the subject matter or instruments being employed. Traffic personified that attitude as well as any other group and never more so than on this album. Here they fully captured the reborn spirit of a generation that was graduating from the revolutionary, tumultuous decade of the sixties. And in the early years of the seventies there was hardly anyone between the ages of 17 and 27 that didn't have this LP in their collection. Picture this. It's a warm summer Saturday and the sun is shining brightly. You and your best girl round up five or six of your friends and together you leisurely stroll to the riverside park for a picnic, some Frisbee tossing with the dogs, a lot of lazy conversation and cheap wine. Later on, just as the temperature starts to climb some big, fluffy white clouds obscure the sun from time to time and a welcome breeze begins to blow. You think to yourself that you're happy to be alive. "Glad," indeed. That scenario is what the first song on this album feels like. The infectious optimism of Steve Winwood's indelible piano melody, the perfectly-in-the-pocket sax and flute work of Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi's carefree drums and percussion make this song ascend into the surreal. It's not fancy but it's ideal. From there they segue effortlessly into the simple but memorable introduction to "Freedom Rider." Steve's smooth, emotional vocal and Chris' inspired flute are the highlights of the tune as it strides steadily towards its spirited ending. "Empty Pages" is next and it completes the trifecta. The regal opening chorus chords lead you into the finest melody on the album, powered by a delicious groove laid down by Capaldi. There's not even a whisper from the sax or flute here because Winwood's playful electric piano ride renders them unnecessary. The song is an absolute gem. It's been well documented that all this began as a solo project for Steve before he bowed to the inevitable and brought Chris and Jim back into the fold. "Stranger to Himself" sounds like it's one of the songs Winwood completed before they arrived. He admirably plays all the instruments (including drums) on it but it lacks the magical and cohesive aura that the previous tunes possess so abundantly. Steve's no slouch on acoustic but his electric guitar playing ability has always been suspect to my ears. It's not a bad song at all but it could have been better. I think if Wood had been asked to replace the twanging, amateurish guitar solo with one conjured out of his saxophone it would have kept it from impeding the overall flow of the album. "John Barleycorn," an adaptation of a fifteenth century prohibition folk tune, is another example of the group creating an indescribable ambience that is timeless. Winwood's acoustic never flags for a moment and Chris' flute dances around the vocal like a spry leprechaun. Jim adds just the right percussion throughout without ever touching a drum and when Steve slyly introduces the piano towards the end the song approaches sublimity. It's almost impossible to follow something that good but "Every Mother's Son" does a decent job of it. It's kinda R&B and sorta gospel-ish in its own Traffic way and distinguishes itself from the other tunes with a guitar-through-the-Leslie-speakers effect. Other than drums Winwood played everything again (including the needless fuzzy electric guitar) but this time it works much better, especially the extended Hammond organ lead performed over an accompanying piano.

"John Barleycorn Must Die" was the band's first gold record and reached as high as #5 on the album charts without the benefit of even one hit single. If you were to assemble a documentary about the lifestyle of young adults circa 1970 you would have to use a song or two from this album or you would fail to grasp the essence of the era. While rock music was getting busier and more complicated by the day Traffic defied that trend and found the very soul of the times with their modest, unadorned yet jazzy approach.

Members reviews

From the opening piano notes of the remarkable instrumental "Glad" to the closing Hammond chords of "Every Mother's Son", this album recorded in 1970 in the trio formation without D. Mason, is generally regarded as TRAFFIC's peak.

It is surely very strong album with practically zero bad moments and quite balanced production from start to finish. However, overall music picture for me stands as somewhat empty and unfinished. What is important is that, after the break with Mason, the trio started to explore further into the sort of "fusion" territory, abandoning their psychedelic bluesy roots. Winwood kept his blues and soul colours in his songwriting but also added important jazz improvisation elements, most evident on "Glad", bringing TRAFFIC closer to the current development of jazz rock at the beginning of the decade.

British folk tradition is not abandoned, which is evident in the wonderful cover of the title track, a mythological personification of the alcohol discovery in the shape of barley, its use and production through "killing", and subsequent revenge of the "resurrected" alcohol against men. A highly recommended album, although I would always trade it with the next one - "The Low Sparks of High Heeled Boys".
Sean Trane
(fourth in a serie of ten)

4.5 stars really. Originally intended as a Stevie Winwood solo album , this got quickly renamed Traffic and are we ever glad they had that brilliant idea. JBMD must be seen as a transition album "par excellence" as one can really feel the two Traffic phases still present but slowly melting together. The psychy songs are ever so close to the progressive ones. Among these prog tracks are three irresistible masterpieces: Glad and Freedom Rider with their infectious grooves and very judicious breaks - both are invariably linked together (separate tracks but very short time space in between) to the point that even in concert they were successive numbers - and I have never heard these two tracks played separately on the radio. Those two tracks announce the following three albums among which the almost perfect Low Sparks and Shootout - full of great interplay between gifted musicians and superbly peaceful and happy music bringing spine-tingling and goose bumps.

However the other real masterpiece is the stupendous title track - a traditional number rearranged into a poignant and deeply oppressive climate - with superb acoustic guitar parts mixed with Wood's fabulous flute parts and Capaldi's great percussions. Mind-blowing and Stevie will never sing this beautifully again - he will certainly try and succeed but never this brilliantly. Every Mother's Son although good does not stand a chance after such song.

The rest of the tracks on the original album were more psyched (like their first 2 LPs) in more of a 60's manner of writing the music. The bonus tracks (from track 8 on) are a plus for fans but can hardly bring more to the album as a whole.

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