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Traffic - When The Eagle Flies CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

3.22 | 121 ratings

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4 stars It might just be me but in some ways this is one of my favorite Traffic albums. Unlike most of the others I didn't discover this one until just recently, having been introduced to them with 'The Low Spark of the High-Heeled Boys' and only giving cursory attention to the rest of their discography back in the seventies. I actually didn't even know about this one until coming across a mint-condition vinyl copy in a Chicago used record store not too long ago.

The lineup consists of the core remaining members Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood who were present on every Traffic album dating to 1967, and joined on this one by Jamaican bassist Rosco Gee. I'm not sure if they came to know Gee while recording 'Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory' in Jamaica the prior year or if they knew of him from some other source, but the addition works wonders for a band that was sounding a bit tepid by this twilight of their career as a group. This one was recorded at Basing Street Studios, the scene of such classics as 'Led Zeppelin IV', 'Aqualung' and Queen's 'News of the World', with other parts credited to The Island Mobile (whatever that was). And like so many Traffic details there's some historical confusion as well, since the main recording credit is given to Netherturkdonic, a 16-track studio that Winwood supposedly didn't build after Traffic broke up in late 1974. And another detail that is puzzling is the presence of Reebop Kwaku Baah on the cover sketch, who had been with the band for the three years leading up to this album but does not appear on it at all.

Gee gives many of the tracks here a jolt of rhythmic excitement, particularly the lengthy "Dream Gerrard" with its slightly reggae feel and jaunty organ/bass combo doing wonders for Winwood's soulful vocals. They almost sound like a much more talented version of UB40 circa their first couple of albums on this one.

Elsewhere the lazy jazz tendencies of the past two albums emerge again, most notably with the lounging and spacey "Graveyard People", the title track, and brief but touching "Love".

"Memories of a Rock n' Rolla" is a bit too nostalgic for my tastes but features pretty good guitar work from Winwood and a playful Gee bass line so its not too bad despite the cheesy lyrics. And the finest moment comes midway with the grooving reggae-scented "Walking in the Wind", a bass-driven thing with heavy, brooding organ, sparse piano and lyrics that read like something that started out as a love song and got red-penned midway by Bob Marley into a sort of semi-political world view through jaded eyes. The lyrics don't really fit the Traffic mold but the song is solid and would become their last single except for a live track released at the same time as their 1994 reunion CD.

The title track may be the most progressive song on the album with syncopated undercurrent rhythms atop an English folk-influenced vocal track and constantly shifting tempo dominated by piano and Winwood's sorrowful singing that at times suggests just a bit of Peter Gabriel but without the range. I actually think this would have been a better opening track than a closing one.

This was the third and final swan-song for the band though, as Winwood was feeling the itch of a solo career again and Capaldi had already tasted of one with his own record deal a couple year's prior. Wood was in the throws of a deep alcohol addiction, which would eventually hasten his demise eight years later. Critics were pretty hard on the album, although it did manage to score the band their fourth gold record and led to a final tour before they called it quits for good.

Like I said at the outset, this is one of my favorite Traffic albums, and like Supertramp's 'famous last words...' it is thick with the scent of a brilliant but dying musical force. I don't have any problem giving this four out of five stars for the range and emotion in the songs, and given time and temperance can easily ignore any sense of loss thinking what might have been for a great band that faded away far too soon. Highly recommended.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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