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Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

3.91 | 357 ratings

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4 stars "John Barleycorn Must Die" was originally intended to be a Steve Winwood solo effort. Though partway through the recording two other Traffic alumni were invited on the album, thus turning it into a Traffic project. This album also heralded a new and jazzier era of Traffic, which in my opinion made the band much more interesting. This album is Traffic coming into their own, musically and economically (as it was their first gold selling album).

The Title track of the album is a very interesting one. It is a modern interpretation of a several hundred year old British folk song. According to the linear notes it has to do with brandy, the lyrics are very clever. Personifying Barleycorn as a man who was rather brutally murdered. The verse "And little Sir John with his nut brown bowl/And his brandy in the glass/And little Sir John with his nut brown bowl/Proved the strongest man at last..." inspires a lot of thought as to the meaning of the song (which I think is best left to people to discover on their own).

Since, as I stated earlier, this was to be a Winwood solo project much of it showcases his ability as a singer and multi instrumentalist. The album contains many different varieties of instruments, and the trio all plays different instruments on almost every track. Despite this it is a very even album, and remains very folk oriented with jazz undertones. Some songs are folkier than others (the title track for example), but there isn't enough deviation to be labeled as anything else.

The album contains much to be enjoyed: fantastic muscianmanship (listen to the last section of "Empty Pages" the organ duet is excellent and uplifting), solid songwriting, interesting concept on some of the songs, and a style that in 1970 was very original. The most intriguing aspect of the album is Winwood's extremely diverse vocal capabilities. Blues, pop, folk; he sings in all of these styles and more than competently in all of them.

On the other hand the album seems short, and the better songs are leagues ahead of the poorer ones on the album. Although the entire thing feels together, it in fact is almost too diverse musically. Perhaps because Winwood wanted to showcase his capabilities, he wrote the songs all just to impress fans. I have little criticism however, because everything is done rather well.

The track "John Barley Corn Must Die" alone is reason enough to make this album interesting, very folky with good concept and nice arrangements. "Glad" is an impressive song, and is easily the jazziest track making it enjoyable over the others. I find "Stranger To Himself" to be sort of dull, not accomplishing anything other than highlighting Winwood's ability to sing bluesy rock. Its still, however, an enjoyable tune.

This would be an excellent addition to your collection if you are interested in Traffic's or Steve Winwood's musical history, as it is probably amongst if not the most important album to their development as artists.

Hangedman | 4/5 |


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