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Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

3.91 | 340 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
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.)

The Whistler | 3/5 |


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