TRAFFIC — Traffic

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TRAFFIC - Traffic cover
3.41 | 12 ratings | 4 reviews
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Album · 1968

Filed under Jazz Related Rock


1. You Can All Join In (3:40)
2. Pearly Queen (4:21)
3. Don't Be Sad (3:25)
4. Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring (3:15)
5. Feelin' Alright? (4:20)
6. Vagabond Virgin (5:22)
7. Forty Thousand Headmen (3:14)
8. Cryin' to Be Heard (5:12)
9. No Time to Live (5:20)
10. Means to an End (2:35)

Total Time: 40:50


Steve Winwood / vocals, guitar, organ, piano
Chris Wood / sax, flute
Jim Capaldi / drums, vocals
Dave Mason / guitar, vocals

About this release

Island Records (UK), United Artists Records (US)

Thanks to Chicapah, snobb for the updates


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The category of jazz related rock is slightly contradictory by its own nature. To be accepted by jazz purists while dabbling in a form of music that is inherently primal and somewhat prescribed a group has to be a little schizophrenic and perhaps that's what this album is. And I mean that in a good way. Some history first. Teen prodigy Steve Winwood had spent four years with Spencer Davis, crafting hit after hit of pop/R&B radio staples. Weary of that treadmill, he assembled Traffic in order to pursue a more original style of music heavily influenced by folk's story-driven lyrics and jazz's unenhanced instrumentation. This was risky business because that approach wasn't in the forefront of current trends at the time. The closest anyone was coming to traditional music was Dylan on "John Wesley Harding" and The Band on "Music from Big Pink" but both leaned more towards American country. "Mr. Fantasy," Traffic's first release, had been more topical (it was a trippy, psychedelic excursion) but it did succeed in putting them on the map by reaching #8 on the US charts. They now had an audience they hoped would be ready for a new approach. "You Can All Join In" typifies the optimistic mood the band wanted to establish from the get go. While many songs of the day proclaimed dire warnings and preached about dangerous omens, here Dave Mason urges us to count our blessings as he sings "Love you, it's nothing new/there's someone much worse off than you are." It's lighthearted and infectious from start to finish. "Pearly Queen" has a deceptively peaceful beginning but then it tears into a driving blues riff with a strong backbeat from Jim Capaldi. This time it's Winwood who tells us to lighten up with "then one day/I met an Indian girl/and she made me forget/this troubled world we're living in." This one's more along the lines of their previous album with a psychedelic guitar lead panned from side to side and a raga-type ending. "Don't be Sad" continues to encourage us with Mason warbling "I just want to see you get through" as a harmonica and soprano sax play around the chords gleefully. One of my all-time favorite songs, "Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring," is next. It has a cool, funky groove accented by some percussive organ taps from Winwood and you just want it to go on and on. His understated Hammond B3 solo is perfection. "We are not like all the rest," he sings. No kidding. And it's all just him and Jim Capaldi on this tune.

"Feeling Alright?" is one of the most recognizable Traffic songs and it's only two chords. Unlike Joe Cocker's rockin' version, this one sounds like they're playing it in your living room and having a ball. It's actually a lament over a breakup and Mason's droll, what's-the-use-in-breathing delivery is a treat. The piano, congas and tenor sax create a delicious jam combination as it fades away. "Vagabond Virgin" is another cosmic ditty, this one about a young prostitute. It's the weakest song on the album but Chris Wood's excellent flute solo keeps it from becoming laborious. What can I say about "40,000 Headmen" that isn't obvious? It tells an entertaining fantasy story and creates an indelible atmosphere. (With music this good, who wouldn't choose blindness over being deaf?) "Cryin' to be Heard" is a stirring call for compassion that beckons you not to get "wrapped up in your little world" and features a fine harpsichord performance from Steve. "No Time to Live" is yet another masterpiece. Wood's haunting soprano sax permeates the tune as the piano creates a beautiful, dramatic aura. Winwood turns in his best vocal here as he sings in anguish "I've given everything that was mine to give/and now I turn around and find/that there's no time to live." It's an amazing song. The finale is Steve playing everything but drums on the lively "Means to an End." Maybe he's addressing Mason (who was only around for about half the sessions) when he sings "like Peter you disowned me" for this turned out to be the last complete studio album from the original foursome. But, despite their bickering, they still managed to make a classic album.

From what I can tell this band was one of the principal instigators of folk/jazz/rock (whatever that is). Traffic incorporated sax, flute, harmonica, piano and drums with acoustic and electric guitar to create an unrestricted brand of unpretentious, straightforward music with this album. Their songs appealed to a whole generation in the late 60s and early 70s that still craved the simplicity they had found in artists like Dylan and Donovan but wanted something new they could latch onto. It seemed like every college student at that time had a copy of this LP in his stack of records. And no wonder. It's a gem. Traffic would lean more heavily into their jazz side in the years to come so if that's what you are more interested in hearing perhaps "Low Spark" would be a better place for you to start.

Members reviews

While 1967's Mr. Fantasy was inspired by the psychedelic bands of the time, Traffic evolved rapidly and suddenly with the release of their second album the coming year. Folk rock entered the stage in a much more prominent role, mostly carried by Mason's song writing. What came from the self titled was doubtlessly more structured than the prior, and acclaimed similar positive critical reception.

Traffic takes a different approach on the composition, with a theme of split sides; one being the bouncy, folk Mason end where all songs are catchy and sing-song. The opposite end is led by the haunting Winwood, whose writing I've always preferred due to it's stylistic nature of more prominent coinciding elements. The music especially from Winwood ages much better than the 60's-born folk that Mason wrote. I won't deny that Mason struck gold a few times, although songs like the slightly annoying 'You Can All Join In', mostly meant as a sort of sing-a-long (living truly up to it's name) tone, can get degrading the more times you cycle through the album. As for instrumentation, consistency is something the album does best. Sometimes vocals from Mason, Winwood and Capaldi can get a little strained to match the pitch of the song, but the actually instruments maintain the beat steadily and don't find much issue in jumping back and forth across the different styles presented each track.

This self titled from the late 60s is of course emblazoned with the stamp of the decade, but is less of a product of the times as Mr. Fantasy unduly was. Unique variation is something that is found in large amount with all of the tracks. Anyone, prog fan or not, could find this enjoyable in some way. Fun for the whole family!
It is well known that Dave Mason from the beginning wanted to pursue his own ideas, clashing with Winwood et al over the concept of the band. On the debut album this seemed to be overcome by mutual burst of energy and fresh ideas. But already on this, their second album, one can notice the discrepancy between Mason's attempts to go for mainstream rock and more ambitious projects of other three members. The resulting album sounds much better than the debut in terms of production, but lacks enough strong compositions. The best moments here are small masterpieces of musicianship: heavy blues of "Pearly Queen", folksy acoustic ballad of "40000 Headmen", popular soul hit "Feelin' Alright" and psyche-ballad with wonderful sax "No Time To Live", but the rest is pretty much negligible. Still, this is a good album although not on par with what TRAFFIC could offer.
Sean Trane
(second of a series of ten)

Traffic's second album gets the same rating for the exact same reasons - Historical importance. Of course slightly less than their debut but it has better overall musicianship. Traffic was one of those first groups professing a pastoral look and music and retreating to the countryside to write and re/inspire , much like later bands will do (Zep with Bron-Y-Aur and Genesis and Mc Phail cottage).

This album has the Feelin' Allright hit but also many other things bound to please early-prog fans - I am thinking of the absolute masterpieces 40,000 Headman and No Place To Live. Much of the other tracks are still in the psychadelic mode of the times and may take a few listen to get used to if you are only discovering the band.

Although not described here, this album comes also in a re-release package with many bonus tracks (mainly non-album singles but the odd alternate take) , most of it of much importance and value.

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