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Traffic - The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

4.06 | 313 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Free flowing Traffic

With Dave Mason having rejoined Traffic for the brief tour which resulted in the "Welcome to the canteen" album, the expectation was that he might stay around long enough to participate in a studio album. His preference for the live environment was however at odds with Steve Winwood's eagerness to return to the studio, and Mason returned to the US to continue his solo career.

The other three musicians who had joined the trio of Winwood, Wood, and Capaldi for the tour though, were consolidated into the line up, thus doubling the ranks. This afforded both Winwood and Capaldi more options when it came to performing live, and perhaps in the studio too.

"The low spark of high healed boys" was released just a year after the acclaimed "John Barleycorn must die", but it represents a significant change in the style and direction of the band. Gone are any hints of the band's prog folk leanings, to be replaced by a much harder sound with strong jazz influences. Those jazz sounds had of course been audible before, but they had always been muted by either Mason's lighter pop style, or Winwood and Capaldi's folk indulgences. The general mood of the album is mellow, perhaps slightly downbeat, reflecting the core trio's passing from naively enthusiastic youngsters to more orthodox cynical members of the music industry.

Fortunately though, the inspiration is still there, it is simply harnessed in a different way. The song-writing is now dominated by the Winwood/Capaldi partnership with just one track, "Rock and roll stew", being composed by new boys Rick Grech and Jim Gordon. Interestingly, this was the song which was selected as a single and thus appears on the remastered CD release of the album twice, in original and extended single format.

The album opens with the charming soft "Hidden treasure", a song which serves as an appropriate link from the old to the new. It is though the following 11 minute title track to which we immediately gravitate. Winwood's vocals and piano dominate this ambitious piece which draws together a relatively straight forward rock song, complete with memorable chorus, and a smooth jazz core of piano and wind instruments. It is one of those songs which on first hearing you perhaps wonder what all the fuss is about. Believe me though, it will take root within your conscience and demand repeated listening.

The first side of the LP is completed by "Light up or leave me alone", where Jim Capaldi receives a rare solo writing credit. The song provides a contrast for the epic which precedes it being something of a smoky barroom blues rocker.

Side two also has just three tracks, although the balance between them is more even. The aforementioned "Rock and roll stew" has a retro feel, primarily due to the slightly echoed vocals and the "Gone, Gone, Gone" lyrics. The song is a funky piece of pop rock, perhaps in the style of The Band. Normal service is resumed with "Many a mile to freedom", which sees Winwood back at centre stage. His vocal here is notably sober, the song sounding a little like a late night version of "Low spark. . .".

The closing track "Rainmaker" brings together much of what has preceded it, along with some Eastern nuances. Wood's flute work here reminds us in passing of the folk influences of the early albums.

In all, a superb album which sees Traffic continuing to explore new directions, while drawing on that which has brought them thus far. Personally, I rate "Low spark.." just behind "John Barleycorn" in terms of the best of Traffic, but at the end of the day, both are excellent recordings.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |


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