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Traffic John Barleycorn Must Die album cover
3.88 | 216 ratings | 31 reviews | 28% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1970

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Glad (6:59)
2. Freedom Rider (5:30)
3. Empty Pages (4:34)
4. Stranger to Himself (3:57)
5. John Barleycorn (6:27)
6. Every Mothers Son (7:08)

Total Time: 35:06

Bonus tracks on Island remaster
4. I Just Want You to Know (1:30) (This track appears as track 4 on the remaster, tracks 4-6 becoming 5-7)
8. Sittin' Here Thinkin' of My Love (3:33)
9. Backstage and Introduction (1:50)
10. Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring [live] (6:56)
11. Glad [live] (11:29)


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Music tabs (tablatures)

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Line-up / Musicians

- Jim Capaldi / drums, percussion, vocals
- Steve Winwood / guitar, organ, piano, percussion, vocals
- Chris Wood / saxophone, flute, organ, electric saxophone, percussion

Releases information

LP Island Records Ltd. - ILPS-9116. (1970)
CD Island remasters IMCD266 / Polygram International 546499 (1999)

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TRAFFIC John Barleycorn Must Die ratings distribution

(216 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(28%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(45%)
Good, but non-essential (23%)
Collectors/fans only (3%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

TRAFFIC John Barleycorn Must Die reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
4 stars (fourth in a serie of ten)

4.5 stars really. Originally intended as a Stevie Winwood solo album , this got quickly renamed Traffic and are we ever glad they had that brilliant idea. JBMD must be seen as a transition album "par excellence" as one can really feel the two Traffic phases still present but slowly melting together. The psychy song are ever so close to to the progressive ones. Among these prog tracks are three irresistible masterpieces : Glad and Freedom Rider with their infectious grooves and very judicious breaks - both are invariably linked together (separate tracks but very short time space in between) to the point that even in concert they were successive numbers - and I have never heard these two tracks played separately on the radio. Those two tracks announce the following three albums among which the almost perfect Low Sparks and Shootout - full of great interplay between gifted musicians and superbly peaceful and happy music bringing spine-tingling and goose bumps.

However the other real masterpiece is the stupendous title track - a traditional number rearranged into a poignant and deelply oppressive climate - with superb acoustic guitar parts mixed with Wood's fabulous flute parts and Capaldi's great percussions. Mind-blowing and Stevie will never sing this beautifully again - he will certainly try and succeed but never this brilliantly. Every Mother's Son although good does not stand a chance after such song.

The rest of the tracks on the original album were mor psychy (like their first 2 LPs) in more of a 60's manner of writing the music. The bonus tracks (from track 8 on) are a plus for fans but can hardly bring more to the album as a whole.


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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#33764) | Review Permalink
Posted Friday, January 14, 2005

Review by Chris S
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is it! Traffic finally came ofage with John Barleycorn Must Die. What happened was it Mason's departure that helped bring these genius musicians to the fore? Whatever it was, it was an astonishing transformation from their previous works. ' Glad' for me my personal favourite on the album but the title track served as a typical melancholic ballad if you like with classic Winwood vocals. The Capaldi and Wood contributions are equally strong on this album. There is not a bad track amongst them and John Barleycorn hit the vintage sound just at the right time when creative output was at an all time high.


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Send comments to Chris S (BETA) | Report this review (#33769) | Review Permalink
Posted Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Review by Hangedman
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.


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Send comments to Hangedman (BETA) | Report this review (#44909) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Review by Raff
5 stars Traffic's finest hour and one of my all-time favourite albums, "John Barleycorn Must Die" blends folk, blues, jazz and prog influences to create a magnificent whole - a record I listen to time and again without ever getting tired of it. It contains at least three masterpiece - the title-track (covered by other bands and singers, but never in such a magnificent way), the opening instrumental "Glad" (also featuring in a live version on the remastered edition of the CD) and the wonderful "Freedom Rider", showcasing Steve Winwood superb vocal talents. Wood's sax and flute play a very relevant role in this record, together with Winwood's brilliant organ playing. However, drummer Jim Capaldi's no slouch either, providing a solid backbeat to all the tracks, as well as playing tambourine and other percussion on the acoustic title-track - a traditional folk song about the origins of beer. Highly recommended to all lovers of classic, timeless rock music!


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Posted Saturday, October 29, 2005

Review by Seyo
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars From the opening piano notes of the remarkable instrumental "Glad" to the closing Hammond chords of "Every Mother's Son", this album recorded in 1970 in the trio formation sans D. Mason, is generally regarded as TRAFFIC's peak. It is surely very strong album with practically zero bad moments and quite balanced production from start to finish. However, overall music picture for me stands as somewhat empty and unfinished. What is important is that, after the break with Mason, the trio started to explore further into the sort of "fusion" territory, abandoning their psychedelic roots. Winwood kept his blues and soul colours in his songwriting but also added important jazz improvisation elements, most evident on "Glad", bringing TRAFFIC closer to the current development of prog rock at the beginning of the decade. British folk tradition is not abandoned, which is evident in the wonderful cover of the title track, a mythological personification of the alcohol discovery in the shape of barley, its use and production through "killing", and subsequent revenge of the "resurrected" alcohol against men. A highly recommended album, although I would always trade it with the next one - "The Low Sparks of High Heeled Boys".


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Posted Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Review by bhikkhu
4 stars My first Traffic album was "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys." It became an instant favorite, and I couldn't imagine this band doing any better. Years later I heard "John Barleycorn Must Die," and realized that they had indeed topped my old love. This was the beginning of Traffic's second phase, so don't look for the hippy stuff here. Not to say the sentiment isn't there, but it's actually an all out music-fest.

"Glad" opens with a serious piano crunch, to let you know they aren't fooling around. The ensuing instrumental jam backs up that statement.

"Freedom Rider" has great melancholy sax, and some serious flute (the piano isn't bad either). Once again jamming until a fever pitch is reached, and then just falls down out of sheer exhaustion.

"Empty Pages" is a groovy soul number, with enough organ to keep us proggers happy. The vocals (as you would expect) are stellar. Stevie does like his soul.

The next one is an odd combination of blues, country, and rock. Thus it is aptly titled "Stranger to Himself."

The title track is one of the best adaptations of classic folk you will ever hear.

"Every Mothers Son" is a drawn out epic, and that is the only problem. It just goes on a bit too long. It doesn't sound like it was a completely finished concept, so they had to fill it out. The ending also leaves a bit to be desired. It is a fadeout, and a pretty poor one at that. Otherwise, another great tune.

This is a near perfect album. A classic by anyone's definition, and should be sought out.

H.T. Riekels


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Posted Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Review by Mellotron Storm
3 stars This record begins with the 7 minute instrumental "Glad" featuring sax, flute, organ, drums and piano. The second song "Freedom Rider" is one of my favourites on this record, it opens with sax and it's actually a joy to hear Steve's voice after the opening instrumental. I've been a fan of Steve's voice since I first heard it back in the late seventies. Flute and piano are both prominant as well but I really like the sax.

"Empty Pages" has an R & B vibe going on, lots of organ. "Stranger To Himself" is piano and vocal led for the most part, although there's some good guitar too. "John Barleycorn" is simply a beautiful folk song with flute, acoustic guitar and piano accompanying Steve's reserved vocals. "Every Mother's Son" is another favourite with some nice guitar and Steve's soulful vocals leading the way.

Not quite 4 stars for me but an album I respect a lot. My favourite TRAFFIC album is "The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys".


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Posted Friday, October 20, 2006

Review by Chicapah
4 stars As you must know, progressive music is more than just Mellotrons and Moogs or flights of fantasy and extraordinary musical concepts. It's an attitude more than anything else no matter what the subject matter or instruments being employed. Traffic personified that attitude as well as any other group and never more so than on this album. Here they fully captured the reborn spirit of a generation that was graduating from the revolutionary, tumultuous decade of the sixties. And in the early years of the seventies there was hardly anyone between the ages of 17 and 27 that didn't have this LP in their collection.

Picture this. It's a warm summer Saturday and the sun is shining brightly. You and your best girl round up five or six of your friends and together you leisurely stroll to the riverside park for a picnic, some Frisbee tossing with the dogs, a lot of lazy conversation and cheap wine. Later on, just as the temperature starts to climb some big, fluffy white clouds obscure the sun from time to time and a welcome breeze begins to blow. You think to yourself that you're happy to be alive. "Glad," indeed. That scenario is what the first song on this album feels like. The infectious optimism of Steve Winwood's indelible piano melody, the perfectly-in-the-pocket saxophone and flute work of Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi's carefree drums and percussion make this song ascend into the surreal. It's not fancy but it's ideal. From there they segue effortlessly into the simple but memorable introduction to "Freedom Rider." Steve's smooth, emotional vocal and Chris' inspired flute are the highlights of the tune as it strides steadily towards its spirited ending. "Empty Pages" is next and it completes the trifecta. The regal opening chorus chords lead you into the finest melody on the album, powered by a delicious groove laid down by Capaldi. There's not even a whisper from the sax or flute here because Winwood's playful electric piano ride renders them unnecessary. The song is an absolute diamond. It's been well documented that all this began as a solo project for Steve before he bowed to the inevitable and brought Chris and Jim back into the fold. "Stranger to Himself" sounds like it's one of the songs Winwood completed before they arrived. He admirably plays all the instruments (including drums) on it but it lacks the magical and cohesive aura that the previous tunes possess so abundantly. Steve's no slouch on acoustic but his electric guitar playing ability has always been suspect to my ears. It's not a bad song at all but it could have been better. I think if Wood had been asked to replace the twanging, amateurish guitar solo with one conjured out of his saxophone it would have kept it from impeding the overall flow of the album. "John Barleycorn," an adaptation of a fifteenth century prohibition folk tune, is another example of the group creating an indescribable ambience that is timeless. Winwood's acoustic never flags for a moment and Chris' flute dances around the vocal like a spry leprechaun. Jim adds just the right percussion throughout without ever touching a drum and when Steve slyly introduces the piano towards the end the song approaches sublimity. It's almost impossible to follow something that good but "Every Mother's Son" does a decent job of it. It's kinda R&B and sorta gospel-ish in its own Traffic way and distinguishes itself from the other tunes with a guitar-through-the-Leslie-speakers effect. Other than drums Winwood played everything again (including the needless fuzzy electric guitar) but this time it works much better, especially the extended Hammond organ lead performed over an accompanying piano.

"John Barleycorn Must Die" was the band's first gold record and reached as high as #5 on the album charts without the benefit of even one hit single. If you were to assemble a documentary about the lifestyle of young adults circa 1970 you would have to use a song or two from this album or you would fail to grasp the essence of the era. While rock music was getting busier and more complicated by the day Traffic defied that trend and found the very soul of the times with their modest, unadorned yet progressive approach. 4.5 stars.


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Posted Saturday, March 10, 2007

Review by The Whistler
3 stars God Ian must have been in a limp-wristed mood when he composed this one. A bunch of inoffensive jazz tunes and wimpy folk crap? I tell you...oh, wait, this is Traffic. Oh! OH! Oh...time to switch from the left jaundiced eye to the right one.

See, this record can be very easily compared to, say...Song From the Wood! That was also a bunch of samey folksy stuff with some jazzy pretensions. However, Songs at least had enough balls to allow me to headbang to it most of the time. This one only has the charm, and unfortunately, that charm is in short supply (I can detect it safely on only one tune, which should become obvious in a little while).

We start with the cruelly deceptive opening of "Glad," a really good, if not terribly memorable, jazz improvisation (are they ever?). The sax and piano make a nice mix, with the organ and drums keeping a cool beat. But why, oh why, does it have to fall off at the end and become some pointless piano noodling?

We flow right into "Freedom Rider," which opens with some seedy sounding sax. Kinda cool actually. The verses are sung with false gusto, and it's okay, as is the jazzy soloing throughout the song (and the lyrics are occasionally cool: "Then your soul is in the lost and found...FOREVER!" Best line on the album...that was penned by Steve at least). Toe tappin' for sure, but it just doesn't do that much.

The noble, church organ intro to "Empty Pages" makes me think of a Genesis outtake. But, in all honesty, I can see why Peter decided not to put this one on Foxtrot. Pleasant enough background music, but hardly engaging. At least the vocals are a little more sincere this time around (and don't tell me that you don't think of Gabriel when you hear 'em). "Stranger to Himself" is another folksy shuffle. Nice bloozy guitar on that one, and the piano is a nice touch. But nothing sticks in my head.

The only really, truly good, p'rhaps even great, track on the album is "John Barleycorn." It comes as no particular surprise to me that it's not original. No jazzy put on here; it's just a traditional Anglish folk tune, complete with traditionally strummed Anglish guitars and floaty, ghostly, traditional Anglish flutes. Practically emotionally stirring those flutes, as are the vocals for a change.

"Every Mother's Son" starts out very pleasantly, with some nice guitar in the background, and the descending melody is nice. But when we get to the organ solo, I, once again, find myself paying more attention to the rhythm BEHIND the solo. Which is, in artsy crap like this, important of course, we're supposed to hear what every instrument is doing. But I'm listening to that because the organ solo isn't particularly interesting. Still, the guitar is nice. On a Strawbs album or something, this would be pleasant filler; here, it's practically a highlight.

Okay, so I've praised the Strawbs and the Tull at the expense of Traffic...anything else? Nah, I reckon that's it (hey! 'Least I didn't mention Family, right?). Now it's not like there's anything vomit inducing on this album. Every instrument is well played, if not masterfully played, and the melodies never insult me with over simplicity or ridiculous pretensions beyond their means.

So my problem isn't that the album offends me. It does not. It's way too soft around the edges to do that; as I've said, every thing is pleasant enough. Quite a few of the numbers have their moments. It's just that the numbers go on so long and refuse to present me with a plethora of musical ideas, and, on that note, almost all the numbers have their off moments too. In fact, were it not for the title track, I'd sell it off as a fairly wimpy folk/jazz fusion album, and give it a high two. As it stands, a solid three. Hell, I like "Glad," maybe "Freedom Rider." Maybe a highish solidish three. Maybe not.

So there's nothing wrong with it, there's not much right with it, but how come it's considered a classic? Can you honestly believe that the AllMusic (oh, God, we KNOW their standards are up to snuff) rated this higher than Heavy Horses?!? Beyond me.

(Oddly enough, the remaster actually mixes in the bonus tracks to the album. I guess that's where they were "supposed" to be. The very repetitive blues rocker "I Just Want You to Know" COULD have been horrible, except it's less than two minutes long, so it's actually a highlight. In fact, I find it more memorable than most of the stuff on the "real" album. Heh. New closer "Sittin' Here Thinkin' of my Love" is a decent piano based blues effort, and the lyrics are cute, but that voice is REALLY starting to get wavery by now. It doesn't go on too long either, which is probably for the best. In the end, I feel no particular need to raise the overall rating. Very cool, color-washed picture of the lads though.)


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Posted Friday, August 31, 2007

Review by Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Actually, I am not a great fan of Traffic. But when I heard one song from a compilation of Folk Song in the form of cassette sometime in seventies, I got one song that really blew me away at first listen: "John Barleycorn Must Die". WOW! It's truly a great track combining the power of acoustic guitar and accentuated singing style which made this song really powerful. The melody line is also wonderful and it brings the listener into the continuum of musical ecstasy without having to be necessarily listening to a complex arrangement at all. Steve Winwood is really skillful in this composition. The existenece of this song made its own standing among other songs by other heavier bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath. It was quite strange that this song was under compilation with artists like Joan Baez and Olivia Newton John (Please Mr Please). But I don't really care because this song is definitely different if I compare with other tracks. When the CD was available, I purchased it for this one song, really! I know that other songs are not bad at all, but this title track is truly excellent and it has become a legendary and memorable track for me. In fact, I recommend you to buy this CD.

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW


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Posted Friday, August 31, 2007

Review by Flucktrot
4 stars John Barleycorn Must Die is a solid album because of the quality music, diversity of instrumentation and influences, and historical importance. This album is a collection of very well-done and entertaining songs, and not by any means a concept album where the music is linked by stylistic or conceptual themes. To be honest, I had never appreciated Traffic's innovation or influence on other bands, but once I finally encountered this album, I began to understand. Here's a brief synopsis of this captivating combination of jazz, folk, and rock:

Glad, Freedom Rider. Two songs on paper, but one in spirit. Glad is one of the liveliest album openers out there, with a bouncy piano line, tasteful drumming, and a nice sax groove. After grabbing your attention with this catchy combo, the boys keep up the tempo with an inspired jam led by some electric sax improv. This dies down into a contemplative bit that perfectly sets up the opening sax line to Freedom Rider. This is a catchy tune highlighted by a restrained flute solo and moderate build for the conclusion. Great stuff!

Empty Pages, Stranger to Himself. Traffic is moving from jazz to rock with these tracks, but they are well executed, catchy, and of course made unique by Stevie Winwood's raw, heartfelt vocals. Empty Pages features the organ/keyboard combo, while Stranger to Himself emphasizes the guitar: nothing virtuosic here but groovy and memorable.

John Barleycorn. And out of nowhere, we have a great folk song. Here Traffic have accomplished a great deal: a haunting and melancholy tune, nice flute and vocal harmonies, and most importantly, borrowing folklore to present a tale that can be interpreted in many symbolic levels. Depending on who you are, John Barleycorn can represent a poor grain whose fate is to be tortured in alcohol production, an alcoholic amongst teetotalers, or the Messiah himself. Very progressive indeed.

Every Mother's Son. A laid-back, groovy piece to finish out the album. Very nice work on the keys and vocals by Winwood. This definitely will leave you with a nice aftertaste for the album.

Overall, just a well-done album. Not overly ambitious, virtuosic, or pompous, these guys have simply laid down six very enjoyable tunes that complement each other quite nicely. My favorite piece by Traffic.


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Posted Saturday, September 08, 2007

Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars A fine brew

In 1970, with Traffic appearing to have run their course, Steve Winwood was still contracted to Island records to deliver two further albums. He therefore started work on a solo album, completing two tracks (Every mother's son and Stranger to himself) pretty much single handed before calling for help. Former Traffic band mates Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood (but not Dave Mason) were called up and it was quickly decided that the resulting album would bear the Traffic name. The title was originally to be Mad shadows, but when Chris Blackwell pulled rank and stepped in as producer, Guy Stevens went off to work with Mott the Hoople, taking that title with him.

The album opens with the instrumental Glad, a piece which is unusually credited just to Steve Winwood. Most of the songs here continue to be Winwood/Capaldi collaborations. The track is a loose improvisation which allows each of the trio to demonstrate their dexterity. It is quite a change from the first two albums, which had only occasionally hinted at the band's future jazz direction.

Freedom rider takes the energy and excitement of the early albums and blends them with a more mature structure. The song thus becomes a magnificent jazz/pop/rock number. By now it is quickly becoming apparent that the absence of Dave Mason has freed the remaining trio to explore the direction Winwood had pushed for right from the start. Gone are any notions of pandering to the singles charts, along with the light simplistic songs which adorned each of the previous albums. Gone too are the alternate vocals of Mason, Winwood now singing throughout.

Empty pages continues to evidence the unbounded enthusiasm which has been rekindled, Winwood's organ playing being the dominant sound to back a fine vocal performance. On Stranger to himself, Winwood demonstrates his dexterity with a decent lead guitar solo.

The title track is a magical interpretation of an old folk song which has also been covered by bands such as Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. The song's lyrics are based on the production process for beer and whisky, John Barleycorn being the agricultural content simulated in human form. While Winwood and company maintain the folk ethic of the song, they blend with it an ISP/Jethro Tull like feel. Wood's wind instrumental backing is particularly of note here, the song being a delightful acoustic break which would not have sounded out of place on Led Zeppelin III.

"Every mother's son" finds Winwood at his absolute best. His vocals are strong and emotional, book- ending a sublime organ solo. The track is unquestionably the finest piece of prog Traffic ever released, and a long term personal favourite of mine. The song was selected to appear on the iconic Bumpers collection released by Island records, the track being placed in prime position on that album.

The CD remaster has a number of bonus tracks. The brief I just want you to know is interestingly slotted in between tracks 4 and 5 of the original album. Sitting here thinking of my love is another Winwood solo recording, the song having been written by him prior to the return of Capaldi and Wood. After a superfluous behind the scenes recording at a live gig in New York, the final two live tracks are taken from that gig. The introduction does however serve to tell us that by the time this gig took place, Rick Grech was on board. The two songs performed are extended versions of Who knows what tomorrow may bring from the second album, and Glad, the opening track on this album. Both were intended for release on a live album (NOT Welcome to the canteen), and both serve to emphasise the jazz direction the band were embarked upon, especially in the live environment.

For me, this is Traffic's finest album. It finds the band taking their folk rock roots and blending them with an ambitious mix of prog and jazz. Recommended.


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Posted Thursday, April 10, 2008

Review by micky
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 ..so many voices ..so 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)


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Posted Friday, May 23, 2008

Review by ZowieZiggy
3 stars The gestation of this record has already been described by fellow reviewers so there's no need to tell the story again. The band is now a trio after the many in and out from one of their leader (Mason).

After an hesitant instrumental jazzy track (''Glad''), the next song is much more catchy: ''Freedom Rider'' demonstrates all the qualities of this band: vocals are brilliant (as usual), the work of Chris Wood on sax and fluting is absolutely gorgeous. My fave here.

There are some positive vibrations that are coming out of this album, as if the burden of Mason's decision to leave, stay, leave etc. were all gone. Concentration was again centralized on music, not external stability factors.

This album is also more soul oriented than usual (''Empty Pages'' and ''Stranger To Himself''). These leave me rather cold I'm afraid.

Luckily, the band reverts to a more traditional and folkish style with the charming title track. Another highlight from this album. The mix between the acoustic guitar and the flute is excellent while the heavier mood of ''Every Mothers Son'' shows a nice contrast: Steve is pumping his organ jolly well and performs a very convincing vocal part.

The remastered CD edition adds another twenty-five minutes of music to the original album. What I particularly like are the live tracks. Extended versions of ''Glad'' and ''Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring'' from their second album. ''Traffic'' was a very good live band and had a serious tendency to jam quite a bit during their live performances.

The version of ''Glad'' is totally dynamited and far much superior to its studio counterpart. You have to be keen on long improvisations though. But I belong to this generation.

This is a good album, but better things are on their way. Three stars.


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Send comments to ZowieZiggy (BETA) | Report this review (#222091) | Review Permalink
Posted Sunday, June 21, 2009

Review by kenethlevine
4 stars Progressive rock is arguably epitomized in half of this album's output, that being the title cut, "Glad" and "Freedom Rider", an appealing combination of rock, folk, psych and jazz. If the rest had worn so well and blended aptly with the top drawer material, this project might stand more united.

While the easy trad folk of "John Barleycorn Must Die" is a no brainer to a folky like myself, and certainly the best version of the tune I've heard, it doesn't mix all that well with the rest of the material, being the only truly folk oriented moment. If there is a bridge to the remainder, it would lie in the track's flutes that are taken to a higher level on the brilliant "Freedom Rider", integrated into the group's new jazzy vision but paying homage to their psychedelic roots. The verses sound delightfully like we are catching them in mid phrase. "Glad" leans to the jazzier side of the ledger, thanks to the interplay of saxes and piano, and is another unqualified winner.

For the rest, it could be anything by the SPENCER DAVIS GROUP or early CHICAGO, raucously unrelated to the three masterpieces. This leaves me in a quandary as to the overall rating, but I finally must round up on the off chance that I am missing something that a dose of Mr Barleycorn could materialize.


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Posted Sunday, December 27, 2009

Review by Sinusoid
4 stars Traffic are more of an eclectic group than you think. Maybe amidst their eclectic blending of genres, prog (speaking in the traditional sense of the term) isn't among them. It's just the way the music is exerted makes Traffic progressive in essence. Start with a blues-rock foundation, throw in some jazz fusion and cover a folk tune for pleasure and you've got yourself JOHN BARLEYCORN MUST DIE.

I have the CD version which inserts a track (''I Just Want You to Know'') in between ''Empty Pages'' and ''Stranger to Himself'', and puts another track (''Sitting Here Thinking of My Love'') at the end with both being rather unnecessary. Of the original tunes, the pseudo-title track is a very well adaped folk song that kind of builds to a climax without needing electric instruments. Also of interest is the piano-fusion-y instrumental opener ''Glad'' with sax lines to die for. All others are of the jazz/blues/rock variety where the appeal depends on the listener.

Not prog in the traditional sense but very rewarding if you can get your grubby little hands on it.


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Posted Saturday, January 09, 2010

Review by ClemofNazareth
4 stars Finally after three years and a disorderly though somewhat commercially successful existence Traffic delivered an album worthy of the high expectations placed upon them by their management, record label and fans. 'John Barleycorn Must Die' is a highly engaging, sometimes complex and unquestionably progressive triumph coming on the heels of personal discord and underachievement by the band up to that point.

This was reportedly supposed to be a Steve Winwood solo album, coming as it did after the band's first official breakup and Winwood's fling with the short-lived Blind Faith. Chris Wood had also branched out, appearing with another Blind Faith alumnus as part of Ginger Baker's Air Force. Dave Mason was long gone pursuing a solo career in the States, although this is the first album that includes no Mason-penned songs. And Jim Capaldi had been rumored to have been courted for his solo record, which he would in fact release a little over a year later. But Winwood, much like he did on the band's second album found himself short on like-minded musical accompaniment and enlisted Capaldi and Wood for what turned out to be arguably the best and most well-known (not to mention most commercially successful) Traffic album of all.

The blues influences are noticeable here as they were on previous records, although much more subtle and subdued in favor of jazz-tinted piano and brass along with more than a little hint of English folk thanks to Wood's flute and occasional hand percussion. And of course thanks to the band's take on a traditional folk tune with the title track.

The differences here over prior Traffic records are immediately apparent and substantial. The songs are longer and more developed musically, emphasizing instrumentation and musical progressions over vocals more than anything the trio had done before. In fact, the album opens with the lengthy instrumental "Glad" which is steeped in saxophone and piano along with Winwood delivering more electric organ and surprisingly no vocals or guitar. Wood also overdubs a little flute work, but the bulk of this song consists of Winwood and Wood exploring chord progressions and tempo breaks on sax and piano while Capaldi romps along with engaging percussion in a tightly arranged demonstration of three musicians synched on all fronts. "Freedom Rider" continues the groove but with vocals from Winwood and an extended flute break from Wood.

"Empty Pages" sounds an awful lot like the stuff Winwood would release as solo material later in the seventies, except perhaps for the heavy presence of Hammond organ that he largely abandoned for the smooth-pop era of his later career. But here it comes off as a natural extension of "Freedom Rider", especially when he launches into a toe-tapping electric piano section atop Capaldi's easy drumming that gives way to Wood's rich organ bleats to give the song some depth as it winds to a close. The song sequencing on this album is outstanding; I can't imagine how the six tracks could have been arranged any more perfectly as the band moves from an instrumental launch to exploration in jazz-pop to the blues guitar-rich "Stranger to Himself" with its two-part vocal dirge.

By the time the title track comes around its hard to know what to expect of the three musicians next, although an acoustic folk song with modern rhythm is certainly not the first thing most listener's would have guessed. Wood's flute and Capaldi's mellow percussion accent Winwood's bard-like vocals and acoustic guitar strumming perfectly to yield a fresh face for a folk song that most would have guessed had been done to death already.

"Every Mother's Son" is one of two tracks Winwood had recorded before turning the solo effort into a band release, and it does have a bit more of a bluesy, commercial feel to it then the rest of the album and does not include any contribution from Wood as far as I know. This sounds like a solo tune but fits pretty well as the closing track here.

Although Traffic were believed to have died following their weak third album and Winwood and Mason's departure, 'John Barleycorn Must Die' is a great resurrection and return for the three and an effort that propelled them to two more solid studio works before they disbanded for good three years later (except for a brief reunion in the nineties). This is a classic and outstanding progressive rock album that belongs in every serious fan's collection. It might even be a masterpiece, but for me a very strong four out of five stars sounds about right. Very highly recommended.



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Posted Monday, July 05, 2010

Review by Prog Sothoth
2 stars This album is comprised of some rock, some jazz, some folk, some soul and some prog all tied up in a bundle. This album is basically "stuff".

It's always driven me nuts every time I've played this work, hoping for a spark, something to perk my ears and take notice. It's never happened. By the time I get to the best track, the full on folk title song, I'm crawling around on the floor battling ennui and holding on to a coffee table like a life preserver lest I pass out. This album has that effect on me.

The musicianship is fine. "Glad" will attest to that. There's nothing exciting, yet these guys can certainly play. "Freedom Rider" even has smidgeons of their earlier style to keep things vaguely entertaining. The next two tracks are soul-sucking whirlpools of banality. They aren't terrible songs boasting poor musicianship and embarrassing lyrics. At least that would be fun. These songs, and, in retrospect, the album as a whole, are huge bowls of pasta with no sauce, dressings or garnish. Plain spaghetti. Prince spaghetti from a box boiled for eleven minutes and dumped into a large white bowl.

The title track is an old folksy song that I actually wouldn't skip on a shuffle whatsoever. It's pretty good, and saves this album from being a complete life-crushing experience. "Every Mothers Son" has a bit more guitar to it, which is fine, but even Bread had to show the world they could "rock out" once in a while. This isn't soft rock at all, but there's no fire either.

I enjoy a lot of Traffic's albums, and Steve has an amazing voice. The fact that this is considered one of their highpoints and a financially successful one at that without even a hit single always baffled me to some extent. It lacks the psychedelic charms of their earlier material, and the cool funk of their following couple of albums. It has a little bit of both sides of their spectrum, but nothing worth grabbing. There's definitely merit in creating a work that is musically difficult to categorize, such as this release, so I'll give it that. It's just that despite being a rather unusual recording, it all sounds relatively tame. It sounds like "stuff".


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Posted Thursday, November 17, 2011

Latest members reviews

4 stars Jim Capaldi, Steve Winwood and Chris Wood created with 'John Barleycorn Must Die' a jewel in the crown of music. An album full of excellent songs full of progressive folk rock, and jazz passages. 'Glad' seems to me a bit full of jazz and soul, with good use of saxophone. 'Freedom rider' is a d ... (read more)

Report this review (#1024548) | Posted by Memo_anathemo | Tuesday, August 27, 2013 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Along with LOW SPARK OF HIGHHEELED BOYS and SHOOTOUT AT THE FANTASY FACTORY, JOHN BARLEYCORN MUST DIE is one of the essential 3 albums by Traffic. Folk, jazz, rock, and prog can all be found on this disc from 1970. There are no weak songs out of the 6 here. (I have the older non-bonus material ... (read more)

Report this review (#452317) | Posted by mohaveman | Thursday, May 26, 2011 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I think I actually had their first two albums, which are great, a few years before I got around to getting this one. What a surprise I was in for. Where the first two are great psychedelic folk pop classics. JB is a huge departure into a wispy folk jazz genre that I'd never heard before a ... (read more)

Report this review (#273760) | Posted by akajazzman | Tuesday, March 23, 2010 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Traffic at their best. It would impossible to expect a better begining to the seventies... A fantastic blend of jazz, folk and progressive rock. Finally Dave Mason has departured and, as a result, Winwood gained his protagonism playing also all the guitars. Chris Wood is another member worthy o ... (read more)

Report this review (#133244) | Posted by sircosick | Wednesday, August 15, 2007 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Despite the album being named after a folk staple, John Barleycorn Must Die contains as many or more jazz elements as it does folk. The album's blending of jazz, folk, and blues behind the varied instrumental skills of Wood and Winwood make for a great listen even if not an overtly progressive a ... (read more)

Report this review (#133202) | Posted by Equality 7-2521 | Wednesday, August 15, 2007 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I came with JBMD from way back, I probably wore out 2 vinyl copies along the way. This record is, to me, simply a masterwork, the very definition of "hanging together", and very grownup from what was not a very grownup period. I guess I don't have a good definition of progressive rock, this reco ... (read more)

Report this review (#128360) | Posted by kingbud | Friday, July 13, 2007 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Steve Winwood originally planned this album to be a solo album, but it soon turned into another Traffic album. "John Barleycorn Must Die" is a stylistic change from the band's previous more psychedelic work to more jazz influenced. The band was just a trio now, but the music sounded better and m ... (read more)

Report this review (#126308) | Posted by Arsillus | Tuesday, June 19, 2007 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Jim Capaldi is one of my all-time faves. The beat he lays down on "Empty Pages" is just fantastic. And what can I say about Steve Winwood. He too is absolutley one of the best singers around. "Empty Pages" is another great example of his chops. "Freedom Rider", "John Barleycorn", "Glad", it's ... (read more)

Report this review (#84837) | Posted by Mcgraster | Wednesday, July 26, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars On Traffic's first three albums balancing between Mason's light melodies and Winwood's more complex and jazzier orientation was almost their trade mark. This album offers overwhelmingly jazz feeling, particularly inherent to the instrumental A side opener 'Glad', while 'Freedom Rider' and 'Em ... (read more)

Report this review (#74490) | Posted by bsurmano | Sunday, April 09, 2006 | Review Permanlink

5 stars There is simply not a bad song on this whole album. The instrumental track "Glad" is one of my favorite tracks by the band. I am not a huge fan of prog folk besides Jethro Tull, but this albums just blows me away with its simplicity and just great tracks. Steve Winwood, Chris Wood, and Jim Cap ... (read more)

Report this review (#39642) | Posted by Goblin11 | Saturday, July 16, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars After the breakup of the original Traffic, Steve Winwood started to go off in his own direction. After a little while with Blind Faith and Ginger Baker's Air Force, Winwood decided toi work on his own solo album. After bringing in Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood for some of the songs, It was dec ... (read more)

Report this review (#33771) | Posted by Tenorsaxman89 | Friday, May 13, 2005 | Review Permanlink

1 stars I can't understand why so many people (I talk about proggers) like so much of this recording !! Only because they put some jazzy ingredients to the formula ? If you like jazz in TRAFFIC albuns, is better listen the following 3 works ("Low Sparks", "Fantasy Factory" or the live "On the Road"). ... (read more)

Report this review (#33770) | Posted by herbie53 | Thursday, April 07, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Have loved this album since I bought it twenty years ago. Has a great feel to it, love the piano and sax solos, very jazzy and a little laid back. Glad and Freedom Rider are the best on the album and although I like the title track nearly as much, I dont think it fits with the rest of the mate ... (read more)

Report this review (#33766) | Posted by | Friday, January 14, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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