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TRAFFIC

Traffic

 

Eclectic Prog

3.37 | 81 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars The category of progressive folk is contradictory by its own nature. To be adventurous and innovative in a form of music that is inherently conventional 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 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 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 (along with The Pentangle) was the instigator of prog folk. Traffic incorporated sax, flute, harmonica, piano and drums with acoustic and electric guitar to create a progressive 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 near-masterpiece gem.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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