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Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

3.90 | 313 ratings

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4 stars A review from Micky... whoa!...hmm.. what drives us to review an album.

I'm sitting here talking with Raffaella about cultural stereotypes... it's a beautiful sunny spring day out, much too beautiful to have my ass parked in front of a computer..but that is the life I lead now.. yet I feel inspired to review an album. I have a backlist of probably 10 albums that I have promised or stated I was going to review around the forums. Yet about 15 minutes ago, I finished a Banco album I was listening to, and next up in the changer was an album that I cherish like few albums. I really do tend to stay away from reviewing albums with more than ..say.. 25 reviews.. much less the 50+ this one has. I am not a good reviewer many voices many better voices can say or have said what I want to say more clearly or more eloquently...but reviewing is about inspiration. This album inspires me to review it. So off I go....

John Barleycorn Must Die was the fourth album by Traffic. However, as many have surely noted in their reviews, this album was originally a Steve Winwood solo album. However.. though Winwood is a fabulously talented musician.. having one of the most soulful and distinctive voices in rock.. is in fact simply is not a good songwriter. Dave Mason was finally out of the fold for good, after having rejoined the group to help them after they struggled during the recording of their self-titled second album. Their third album, Last Exit, a good but uninspiring album consisting of unreleased 'live' and studio tracks. A 'contract killer' having been their 'farewell' in 1969 before Winwood joined Blind Faith. After Blind Faith fell apart.. Winwood started his solo album, which was to be called Mad Shadows. After two completed songs..Winwood decided to invite some 'friends' to come help out with the album, those friends being Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood and voila.. Traffic was reborn. It soon became a hit album, becoming the groups first gold album, and leading to a wildly successful tour with Rick Grech on bass. A live album was recorded on this tour.. but never officially released.. though widely available as a bootleg.

We all have songs that touch us deeply in our souls.. speak to us in ways that no person ever could. Some of us may admit it ..and share them.. some don't. For me.. one of the earliest examples of having a song touch me..and speak directly to me was the opening song off of this album. The instrumental Glad. Jazz has always been on the fringes of Traffic, here it explodes in the listeners face in the form of Winwood's jazzy piano and Wood's saxophone. Solo spots for Wood and Winwood dominate this instrumental. What always spoke to me was the day and night natures OF their solos. Wood's is vibrant, driven by Capaldi's business like drumming. SO full of the life .. the shear joy of living that jazz can inspire in a person. Yet where things take a turn for the Micky is where the song really hits home, after Woods solo we have a reprise of the theme of Glad then things take a complete 180 with a somber, reflective, almost depressingly BEAUTIFUL piano solo by Winwood. The song spoke to me on such a personal level.. so vibrant and full of life.. yet with always a tinge of sadness, reflection, depression. The contrasts can be jarring in the music. Quite simply one of the best instrumentals I have ever heard. For those who value being spoken to.. not merely shock and awed by pointless wanking.

Glad segues into the popular and radio friendly Freedom Rider which features some wonderfully impassioned singing by Winwood and stellar sax and flute work from Chris Wood. Next up is Empty Pages with the classic with some of the more effective and memorable lyrics on the album, written by Jim Capaldi. Mainly a Winwood driven song.. his great singing of course anchors the song with great swirling Hammond chords during the chorus's and a tasty electric piano solo. At this point I should note I am reviewing the remaster, so next up is the previously unreleased 'I just Want you to know' for most basicly a throwaway track.. lyrically nonsensical with the songs title repeated throughout.. but musically.. [&*!#].. I love it, a minute and a half of pure bliss. One musical 'tool' I love most in the use of dramatic build-up and release. .and this track has it. Built up through repeated singing of the song's title, some clean picked guitar, and a plodding drum beat it EXPLODES with MASSIVE sounding Hammond chords and a stinging Winwood guitar solo. This might be the point where I mention that Winwood, learned the finer points of playing guitar, from the master himself, Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix he is not obviously, but I love to hear his guitar work

Next up is one of the songs Winwood completed before the calvary arrived. Stranger To Himself does have those moments where Winwood does strain the limitations of his vocal range but if you are a Winwood fan, you love them, and if you are used to listening to him, you are used to them anyway hahah. Featuring another nice guitar solo by Winwood and some great piano work as well. One of my favorites on the album. The epic title track, and fan favorite, is up next. To be honest.. English folk has NEVER interested me. The only thing I enjoy about the song is ..the end in the delivery of the songs final verse in harmony by Capaldi and Winwood. Not really a favorite of mine. Even less down the tottom pole is the second Winwood track, Every Mothers Son. I don't like the way the guitar is featured on this.. not the playing as much as the way it is so far up front in the mix and especially the particular tone of it. Like the title track.. one that gets skipped over most of the time. Though the organ solo redeems it a bit. With that song the original album ended.. but lucky us that those of us who have the remasters, in particular the one I have and am reviewing, this album didn't have to close it on such an ... uninspired hahha note.

'Sitting Here thinking of my Love' is a decent enough song.. the lyrics are typical for what you would expect with a song title like that. Nice to song to listen to if you are with that special lady of yours. For those who want to prog out.. hit FF.. and thus we come to.. yes.. the gems of this particular CD. The reason this is the THIRD CD I have brought of this album. Having had of course, the original CD release, the US remaster release, with the previously mentioned bonus tracks, then this third remaster, which I got in Europe and have never seen here in the states. I don't know if it is available here in stores. The gem... two songs from the Fillmore East in November of 1970. First off is a STELLAR version of the second album's 'Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring'. Chris Wood with his sax, is in on FIRE here. This one brings back memories of Raff and I FLYING down country roads in Tuscany with this blaring full blast. Good times indeed Just watch out for the Carabinieri, those of you who might decide to ignore Italy's speed limits hahhaha. those [%*!#]ers carry machine guns hahhaah. Last up in .. oh yes... a cracklin version Glad. FAR superior IMO to the 'On the Road' version.. Wood again here is smoking.. much as the Santa Monica version for those who have that.

Rating this album. Easy one to rate.. another album that will be buried with me the day Hell reaches up and takes me. 5 stars no doubt.. even if in my mind it is not a flawless album. What is not flawed.. is simply some of the best stuff that Traffic ever did. The first two thirds of the album is just that. The bonus material more than makes up for that which didn't exactly light my house on fire. For the site 4 stars. Not an album I'd recommend for Prog-Folk fans.. this is not a folk album.. but the beginning the the jazzy incarnation of Traffic that would expand with the next album. However this is an EXCELLENT album to discover for those who don't know Traffic and is an album that most prog fans will have.. thus.. you should as well.

Michael (aka Micky)

micky | 4/5 |


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