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



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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
5 stars (sixth of a serie of ten)

By this time Traffic is at their Mk3 (or is it Mk4) line-up, with Mason showing Wakeman the way on how to drive fans crazy. For my part, I will consider this album to be the second (chronologically speaking) of their prog phase (their first phase was psych) and this album is definitely one of their creative peaks ( Hell if I give 5* , then this must be one) and will be followed by an even better but much-denigrated Shootout At Fantasy Factory that will use the same cut-out cover but with a better idea .

Hardly ever has there been such a beautyfull Love and Peace-Hippy start to an album with spine-tingling vocals (Thick As a Brick approaches that, but it is not on a positive note) such as Hidden Treasure. Most of side 1 is taken up by the 12 min+ stunning title-track , slow in developping (some critics have suggested because low on idea but the athmosphere is the idea) and climaxing only to restart by the same piano notes - delightful.

Side 2 starts off with a rocker , but soon peaks after after Freedom to end on another high-note with the slow but ambiance-full Rainmaker. Too bad for the short throw away rocker (and inspiration-low) Light Up or Leave Me Alone but representating the rebel side of hippydom.

Most progheads reading the reviews on this site will also note that I am very reserved about allowing 5* (less than 5% of my ratings) , but here this is well worth it. A must.

Report this review (#33746)
Posted Thursday, January 13, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars The title of the first track describes this album perfectly. The music is a fusion of rock, jazz, funk and folk; it was considered progressive rock in the early 1970s, although perhaps is not what people today would label as Progressive Rock. Don't let labels put you off this album, though.

The pace of the music is generally slow (nicely so), and by the time the jazzy noodling at the end of 'Rainmaker' has come to an end you should be so mellow you'll be horizontal. The 12-minute title track - a masterpiece - is built around a simple piano riff, with Wood's jazzy sax, Grech's bass and Reebop Kwaku Baah's bongos meandering around it. There's nothing particularly complex about the track, but it's marvellous all the same. But then the rest of the tracks are also good; there's no filler on this album. For those of you who like flute, 'Rainmaker' is very pleasant, as is the flute on 'Hidden Treasure' and 'Many A Mile To Freedom'. Winwood's guitar and keyboard work is also pleasing.

Capaldi's somewhat acerbic lyrics on the title track and on 'Light Up Or Leave Me Alone' are memorable. Mind you, so is the album title, a phrase dreamed up by the actor Michael J. Pollard when he and Capaldi were in Morocco waiting to make a movie that never happened.

This is an album I've enjoyed since the early 1970s and can recommend highly. I even like the psychedelic, understated LP cover with the cut-off corners and trompe l'oeil artwork. A classic such as this deserves 5 stars.

Report this review (#33748)
Posted Saturday, January 15, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars My first Traffic album and what I can realize here, is that this a mix of jazz, folk, rock, and percussions fitting very very well in all the songs, giving a different touch to its sound. This is not a noisy record but a very well played and sometimes complicated sometimes relaxing. For example "rock & roll stew", seems like a reggae song at the introduction, and all the song (whole album) has a swing. This is a very good taste album, not easy at the first listening cause the jazz influence, amazing guitars (Steve Winwood) solos, did you realize guitar those times had another function than nowadays, it wasn't noisy but played with intelligence, guitar has a metal sound that can be very boring if not well played. Amazing work of piano and organ (S. Winwood), amazing drums (Jim Gordon), pleasant flute and sax (Chris Wood) and Mr. Jim Capaldi vocals, percussions, songwriting, left this earth to seek the space for new sounds, Reebop k. Baah, percussions, Rick Grech on bass. É difícil de acreditar que caras como G. harrison e J. Capaldi regravaram os otários, babacas, sem talento, metidos a intelectuais dos los hermanos.
Report this review (#33751)
Posted Wednesday, March 16, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys is the first Traffic album I ever bought. It is an excellent album, and was for me the perfect portal into the world of traffic. Although, it doesn't fit the traditional 'progressive' sound, it is just a wonderful showcase of the band's songwriting and playing abilities. Winwood's vocals sound terrific here and the wind instruments add to the jazzy, laid back, rock and roll sound of this album. The title track is a great, long jam piece. Although some might find it a bit drawn out, interest is held by the solos and other instrumental work. The other songs are all fine examples of Traffic's work as well. All in all a great album!
Report this review (#33752)
Posted Friday, April 1, 2005 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars If you expect symphonic, Genesis-style prog, this record is not for you. However, if you think 'progressive' means not only Mellotron and classical leanings, but also an exciting blend of influences coming from folk, jazz, classic rock'n'roll and even blues and soul, you could do worse than give "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" a listen - and possibly more than one. Although not on the same level as the band's 1970 masterpiece, "John Barleycorn Must Die", this is certainly a more than worthwile addition to any prog record collection.

There are only five tracks on this album, two of which ("Light Up or Leave Me Alone" and "Rock 'n' Roll Stew") are more classic rock than prog - besides not being sung by the inimitable Steve Winwood, without any doubt one of the best vocalists in the history of rock. His voice may be more suited to blues- and soul-tinged tracks than to straightforward prog, but listen to his performance on the title-track (the highlight of the album, a marvellous 12 minutes of vocal and instrumental delight) in order to fully realise his worth. Smoky, wistful, even sensual, Winwood's voice can give shivers down one's spine, enhancing even those which would be ordinary tunes if sung by someone else.

There is a lot of percussion on this record, provided by Jim Capaldi, Jim Gordon and the African percussionist Reebop Kwaku Baah,the latter adding a pinch of exotic spice to the whole.This is a mellow, rather laid-back album, but one which is deceptively easy on the ear, as it needs repeated listens to be really appreciated in full. I would recommend it to everyone who's not afraid of expanding his or her musical boundaries.

Report this review (#53514)
Posted Wednesday, October 26, 2005 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Almost at their zenith in terms of creative output, The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys is a stunning piece of music which arguably is one of Traffic's finest moments.Everything including the tempo on Low Sparks gels together perfectly from the opening " Hidden Treasure" and the epic twelve minute tiitle track onwards. The percussion playing from Reebop Kwaku Baah interracts well with the rest of the band spelling out a similar percussive theme in albums to follow." Many A Mile To Freedom" also has Winwood pitching his unique vocal style supported by Capaldi's thumping drum beats. The least appealing track is the closing ' Rainmaker' but overall a solid excellent studio album by one of the most underrated bands of the early 70's.
Report this review (#60822)
Posted Monday, December 19, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Now, this is a true masterpiece of TRAFFIC, a follow-up to the highly acclaimed "John Barleycorn Must Die". The 6-piece band, now for the first time with a full-time bassist, and additional two percussionists, sounds almost like SANTANA orchestra (which is great!) with many polyphonic arrangements and full "progressiveness" and "fusion". The title track alone is a monumental musical impression, like coming from outer space and eternity with wonderful jazzy playing, beautiful Winwood's singing and ethereal and spacey keyboard solo. It makes you wish to play it over and over again or to tape- loop it so as to stick the fade-out with the fade-in into a perpetual experience. The Album starts and ends with two wonderful acoustic folksy songs with flutes that seriously question the "uniqueness" of Ian Anderson's playing. All in between is a perfect combination of rock, blues, jazz and soul in such a fine way that perhaps only the later STEELY DAN albums could match. The surrealist "cubicle" cover sleeve is a perfect companion to this perfect record.
Report this review (#69363)
Posted Tuesday, February 14, 2006 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars This is my favourite TRAFFIC album. The band recruited former BLIND FAITH bassist Rick Grech, as well as DEREK AND THE DOMINOS drummer Jim Gordon to play on this record. The music here is a blend of Rock, Folk, Jazz and R&B. I found it interesting that there are two percussionists as well as a drummer contributing to their sound on this one.

The record starts off with "Hidden Treasure" an excellent song with flute, guitar and drums. I love Steve's vocals here, especially with the flute where a sad, warm sound is created. "The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys" is an absolute masterpiece, with the African percussion, sax and piano that create a beautiful melody in this slow paced tune.

"Light Up Or Leave Me Alone" features guitar and vocals as the main focus."Rock & Roll Stew" is kind of funky, with Jim singing this time.Cool guitar melody as well. "Many A Mile To Freedom" is another favourite of mine, with lots of flute and Steve's melancholic vocals, and check out the tasteful guitar solo to end the song. The album ends with "Rainmaker" a sad tune with a nice flute intro. Sax and guitar are added to the mix on this great song.

This record is highly recommended.

Report this review (#100436)
Posted Saturday, November 25, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars I've listened to this album dozens of times, and I don't see anything that makes it a 5 star album. It's a generally boring concotion of poor lyrics and toddler-level instrumental talent. Steve Winwood is the only one who shows any noticable ability to play an instrument well, some of his organ solos are quite good.

The fact that it isn't traditionally progressive doesn't affect my rating whatsoever, I enjoy all kinds of well performed music. Traffic is a blend of rock n roll, jazz, and folk. Half the content of this album is average rock songs (Hidden Treasure, Rock n Roll Stew, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone) , part is simple songs and ideas stretched beyond their value (Low spark, Many a Mile to Freedom) and the last is a very good jazzy song, Rainmaker. Throughout the album though, you will notice Winwood doesn't have much talent in the lyric department. "We were children once.. playing with toyys".. Enough said.

Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy listening to this album, but there isn't enough substance to keep me interested unless I'm in the mood for it. My favourite part of this album is the organ solos, they sound like a slowed down version of Dave Sinclair on "Winter Wine" or "Nine Feet Underground" and I love the sound and the simple progressions of the solos.

Most certainly not a masterpeice of progressive music, I can't say it would be an excellent addition to any progressive music collection, so 3 stars it is. Leave Traffic alone unless you like uninspired folk rock music with not much substance.

Report this review (#104962)
Posted Saturday, December 30, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars After the fine return of Winwood (and the band) with the brilliant John Barleycorn, Low Spark changes in a more commercial way, a little more simple style. Here begins to appear those typical long-lenght (and a little bit boring) tracks from this 70's new Traffic. Not as his predeccessor, Low Spark isn't under a concept (well, under a very subtle concept), so it's not a regular album; there are very good tracks, such the opening and the two last tracks, but the other half, Rock & Roll Stew is the definitive lowlight of the disc, and Capaldi's Light Up..., is interesting for a while, but no more. I have a problem with Traffic's over 10-minutes songs. The self-tittled track, as RollRight Stones (see my review from Shoot Out) and Dream Gerrard from When The Eagle Flies, tends to ramble, but with more fine moments than his successors long-lenght tracks. I think a long piece must not ramble, it must be always changing to be more delightful and interesting and not to bore to the listener... Traffic's long songs (over 10 minutes) aren't, certainly, the highlights of their respectives CD, and aren't the best Traffic's virtue either. If you are looking for good long pieces, you better check out albums from bands like Focus, Yes, Jethro Tull or King Crimson... even any simphonic prog band!

However, this album isn't far from the fifth star. Hidden Treasure is a superb song and, in general, this is a good addition to your prog catalog and, of course, an essential Traffic's album.

Report this review (#113970)
Posted Thursday, March 1, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Fresh off the success of "John Barleycorn Must Die," the album that began as a Steve Winwood solo project but (with the versatile help of Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood) fleshed out into being a bonafide Traffic LP, the band opted to expand their membership for the next studio recording. This would bring in new energy and ideas and eliminate the limitations they encountered by only having three people in the group. With the addition of Rick Grech on bass, Jim Gordon on drums and Reebop Kwaku Baah on congas Traffic was able to be a lot more assertive musically, thus allowing them to venture progressively into uncharted folk/jazz/rock areas that few (if any) bands were exploring in 1971.

The album starts serenely with smooth harmonizing recorders, acoustic guitars and Steve's unmistakable voice singing "Hidden Treasure," a song that invites the listener to slow down the pace, listen to your soul's urging and discover the peace within. The low- key rhythm is perfect for Wood's airy flute and the permeating atmosphere has that charismatic Traffic climate that's as comfortable as an old sofa. What's next just may be their finest achievement ever. "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" slowly fades in as if the group is traveling in a gypsy caravan and they are gradually coming within earshot on the horizon. Drawing closer they fully immerse themselves in the song's half- speed tempo and it hypnotizes your senses. It's one of the most unique grooves in the history of rock and roll. Winwood turns in a vocal for the ages and his piano work is delicate and tasteful throughout. The drums, congas and percussion never drag for a nanosecond and Grech faithfully serves as the rock solid anchor with his unwavering bass pattern, keeping the whole endeavor from losing touch with its essential heartbeat. But to me this is Chris Wood's triumph. His saxophone work, both unadorned and then augmented by a distortion effect, is spellbinding and inspired. Following Winwood's last verse he delivers what I like to think of as "the note" that will define this tune forevermore. It's not so much of an indescribable tone as it is a FORCE that makes your hair stand on end. (Chris died prematurely in 1983 but I have it on good authority that the archangel Gabriel was so impressed by "the note" that he stopped Wood just inside the pearly gates and negotiated the rights to use it on judgement day in lieu of the scheduled blast from a trumpet. True story.)

It's impossible to follow something like that gracefully so "Light Up or Leave Me Alone" comes up next (at least it does on the LP version) and it's not too shabby. An easy- going, R&B-styled rocker, it features Capaldi on vocal and an interesting arrangement. Winwood has never been one of my preferred guitarists (some of his earlier work with this band is downright embarrassing) but on this tune he does a decent job overall. One of the characteristics of Traffic is their propensity to perform the essential ingredients of a song, then jam out on the ending and they do that not only on this song but several times on this album. Grech and Gordon contribute "Rock and Roll Stew," an uptempo tune they co-wrote about life on the road, and it garnered quite a bit of FM airplay at the time with its infectious, funky feel. The gospel-tinged "Many a Mile to Freedom" is next and it's a pleasant enough song but I think that if Steve would have played one of his exemplary Hammond organ solos instead of insisting on plunking out another less-than-memorable guitar ride it would have sent this tune soaring through the ceiling. At least during the ending jam we hear some welcome flute work from Chris. "Rainmaker" is the final song and it's excellent. With its somber, haunting chant of a chorus it tells a simple story of a farmer pleading for rain to nourish his crops and I'm sure everyone can find the human allegory it presents. Wood throws in some pertinent flute and Grech adds a dash of violin before they abruptly change gears and adopt a funky beat to improvise on for the rest of the track. The sax and guitar play around each other and the percussion embellishes the Bohemian mood they create as their gypsy caravan loads up and slowly moves on down the road before eventually fading into the twilight.

"The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" has become such a mainstay of classic rock stations the world over that it's easy to forget how ahead of its time the tune and this album was in the early seventies. There was absolutely nothing remotely like it on the musical landscape (not to mention the innovative art and odd geometric shape of the LP cover) and record buyers flocked to it in droves, eventually driving it up to #7 on the charts. Traffic had succeeded in creating their own niche in the biz and that allowed them to follow their muse wherever she led them. This album may not be a masterpiece but the title cut certainly is and more than enough reason to include it in your prog collection.

Report this review (#117461)
Posted Friday, April 6, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars As this is my first review for this site, I wanted to choose an album that was definitely worthy of a 5 star rating. Low Spark is certainly such an album. Mixing an amalgam of styles (jazz, rock, blues and folk), this album stands as TRAFFIC's crowning achievement, in a career that was often hampered with band members coming and going on a regular basis.

The title track (all eleven minutes of it) is one of the most exciting musical excursions one can undertake, and is my personal favorite song from this band. Beginning with a slow, almost churning fade in, one is taken on an ever evolving sonic exploration courtesy of Winwood's mournful vocals and piano and Chris Wood's fuzz drenched sax. Reebop's underrated bongo usage also lends an air of mystique to a track that is already an epic on the grand scale.

"Hidden Treasure" is another standout cut, and I only wish it were as long as the title track. Wood's flute brings this song a certain "backwoods" quality that is matched by Rainmaker at the album's end. The folky charm and echoey vocals make this track equally as good as the title track that follows it.

"Rock and Roll Stew" is one of two obligatory rockers on the album and is the better of the two. Capaldi takes lead vocal duties on this one and it ends up being a fun little song helped along by Winwood's chiming guitar.

More fantastic flute work from Wood follows on "Many A Mile To Freedom" a track that one reviewer described as "gospel- tinged". Winwood also turns in some nice guitar playing here as well.

Capaldi's "Light Up Or Leave Me Alone" is the other rocker, and is an albeit lighthearted ode to pot. All in all a fun song to listen to when...dare I say....under the influence.

"The closing track "Rainmaker" and opens with some chittering flute work from Wood followed by the Native-American like chanting of " Rainmaker" from Winwood and Capaldi. Also featured is some quick violin work from the late Rick Grech, who was previously a member of BLIND FAITH and FAMILY.

All in all, one of the best albums from 1971 and IMHO TRAFFIC's finest piece of work. I like to think that this is the album that got TRAFFIC into the (seemingly anti-prog) Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "If you had just a minute to breathe, and they granted you one final wish, would you ask for something like another chance?"

Report this review (#128162)
Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars In contrast to many others, I think Traffic took a step backward from John Barleycorn Must Die (not a giant step though). I had never been a huge fan of their two major hits off the album (Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys and Rock & Roll Stew), but I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of other tunes that I hadn't been exposed to before. While certainly not bad by any stretch of the imagination, I just don't feel the energy and creativity that I did with their previous album.

Hidden Treasure. The title is appropriate for my experience, because I was very pleasantly surprised by this relatively simple tune featuring the flute and acoustic guitar. Nothing complicated, but catchy and a good way to open an album.

The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys. I've never gotten into this one. The loping tempo is a bit too slow (and I think even the chorus feels like it's dragging as well), and there's just not enough happening for the duration of the song with the exception of lively and entertaining keys--a good chorus with too little surrounding it for nearly 12 minutes.

Rock & Roll Stew, Light Up or Leave Me Alone. Both straightforward singles that are good but not terribly memorable: the former with a nice funky beat and the latter a rocker with a classic Traffic rhythm and some nice guitar.

Many a Mile to Freedom. This is the album highlight for me, with the happiness and creativity that I like from Traffic. It features a great melody (well sung by Winwood too), with some excellent flute and a very enjoyable jam to close out the song. I wish there was more where this came from.

Rainmaker. Another excellent song that taps the Traffic sound. Pleasant harmonies and haunting flute open the song, with a very nice funky twist to close it. I like this more every time I hear it.

Of course, I'm very glad to have this in my collection, and most proggers and classic rockers alike will feel the same. Unfortunately, for me Traffic seem perfectly satisfied to stick to relatively simple jams and standard rock numbers with little actual progression. I would suggest John Barleycorn Must Die before this album.

Report this review (#139048)
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2007 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
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 11½ 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.

Report this review (#167135)
Posted Tuesday, April 15, 2008 | Review Permalink
Queen By-Tor
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars A varied and wondrous experience.

Traffic's The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys is often praised as their best effort, and it might just be. This album is no doubt an exercise in everything that that the jazzier side of progressive rock does best. Intricate arrangements with soft deliveries mixed and heavier tunes that let the audience rock out are all represented on this output, and the band could not have done any of the above better than they did with this release.

While the focus on the album may well be directed to the 11-minute title cut, all of the other songs on the album certainly deserve their praise. Since the album is one of the most thought out in all of prog history in terms of placement of songs (or so it seems) the album flows incredibly well. Things get off to a mellow start from the first calming chords or Hidden Treasure, which also features some impressive vocal work. The middle of the album is represented by some of the heavier cuts, such as the rock ' rolling, Rock & Roll Stew, which sports some great soloing, and in its full version (a 6-minute cut is added to some remasters of the album), some very good instrumental noodling coming into the ending segment. Really, the album plays out like a well-formulated chart, peaking in the middle in terms of heaviness and easing off at the start and finish.

Some of the most memorable songs are the slower ones, especially the ones that cap off the album. Many A Mile To Freedom is a somber and reflective piece that can really capture a mood if you let it. Easygoing yet demanding, this is one of the best songs on the album. Of course, Rainmaker also deserves some due credit, the incredibly emotional coda highlighted by wonderful vocals and some very thoughtful playing makes this song worth waiting for when the end rolls around.

And now we get to the feature piece. The undeniable standout on this album has to be the excellent title track, The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys. Soft and fast pieces blend together wonderfully, and the band's style of jazz and rock really gets to shine here as they seem to have hit a vein with it. If you've ever enjoyed jazzy music with a plethora of instruments which shifts its tempo in many places and some amazing vocals then this is the tune for you.

This album comes in contact with a lot of other genres, so eclectic is a very true placement for it. With moments of symphonic grandeur, canturburian groove, hard rock riffs and jazz rock fusion soloing this album is sure to please many, and even amaze some. A true masterpiece in ever sense of the word, Traffic's The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys receives an easy 5 stars out of 5. Extremely recommended.

Report this review (#185472)
Posted Monday, October 13, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars I like to think of this album as a fusion album, but LOW SPARK is not fusion in terms of what we typically define to be fusion. LOW SPARK is more folksy and bluesy than jazzy, but we get jazz influence here, as well as folk, blues, rock and even a bit of prog here or there.

The title track is the focus track here. It has this overt jazzy quality that reminds me of Miles Davis in terms of how the piece evolves over time. Sure, the piece takes time to get started and the solos can get long in the mouth, but the piece has this mesmerizing appeal that simply cannot be explained. Also, Winwood puts on a heck of a vocal performance here even if Chris Wood steals the show.

The opening track is a very ''folk fusion'' kind of thing and the closer gives hints of prog rock complete with Rick Grech's soaring violin performance. For those looking for some rock, Jim Capaldi's ''Light Up or Leave Me Alone'' and the smooth ''Rock and Roll Stew'' should satisfy. The only really weak track here is the noneventful ''Many a Mile to Freedom''.

Traffic are such a unique band to the archives that it would be pitiful if they were snubbed from a prog collection. Sound-wise, it might not fit, but LOW SPARK has that progressive essence that goes side-by-side with those Genesis records.

Report this review (#192255)
Posted Sunday, December 7, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars The band has now recovered from Mason's hesitations and released this highly considered ''Traffic'' album.

It starts on a peaceful and classic folk song (''Hidden Treasure'') which should be only an appetizer for the epic from this ''Low Spark?'. The mood of this song is also on the tranquil side. This jazzy number doesn't really start actually. Calm and sweet vocals, fine instrumental middle section, and a nice finale are the spices. But I would have liked it more spicy to tell the truth (OK, my wife is Mexican...).

There are no weak songs featured on this album, but none of them are truly moving me. The psyche-rock ''Rock & Roll Stew'' is a perfect example of this feeling.

The first track with a prog feel is ''Many Mile?''. Pastoral atmosphere, nice fluting and pleasant vocals for sure. These qualities are not new and so there is hardly anything new with this album as far as I'm concerned. Unless a bluesy rock like ''Light Up?'' sounds revolutionary to some ears?but not mine.

My second fave is ''Rainmaker''. For the same reasons than ''Many Mile...''. The fluting parts (which are many) are exquisite, and the violin adds a great prog layer . It sounds an awful lot to Tull though. Or is it reverse???

But two excellent songs don't make a great album, only a good one as far as I'm concerned. This is a good release: it rocks a little, it folks a little, it blues a little. But it progs very little. Three stars.

Report this review (#222921)
Posted Wednesday, June 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
The Quiet One
5 stars Eclectic in the old-fashion way...

Broading from jazz, folk, rock and even blues, you got a spectacular album done by fascinating, yet subtle on the show-off side , musicians. The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys is a wonderful adventure to the less classic Prog stuff, so-long the Symphonic structures, and use of the synths and mellotron, also so-long the out-of-it's-time syndrome. Yeah, that's The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, it's 100% 70's sounding, yet compositionally you could say they're out-of-their-time just like you call King Crimson and Gentle Giant.

However, naming those 2 bands from the same sub-genre, as you may have already known from the first paragraph, they're nothing alike, since Traffic stays to the classic 70's roots of rock and blues, and add a wonderful, and very perceptible, blend of jazz and folk. They really don't want to explore new grounds ala ELP with synths and adapting classical compositions, nor as Yes with their grandiose 'epics'. Traffic stays firm to the roots of that time, and from there they create something totally unique and great.

All in all a very creative, yet solid to the 70's rock/blues/folk roots, album. Recommended for all music fans who still need to listen to Prog music that doesn't sound like Prog. Is that paradoxical? Well, whenever you listen to this album, you'll know what I mean.

5 stars

Report this review (#230635)
Posted Saturday, August 8, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Traffic - The low spark of high heeled Boys (1971)

Soul music.

This is not what I expected to find in the eclectic prog genre. Even after my eighth spin of this album I haven't found but one progressive moment on the album (the last distorted guitar-chord of The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys). Furthermore the melodic Rainmaker has some great melodic song-writing.

Traffic is a band with some different influences and elements that still manages to sound as one group. There are rock influences, soul influences, there's some African percussive element and one could find some art rock due to the wind-sections. Don't expect to find very progressive compositions here! This leaves us with the question, what does this record has to offer us? Well. It's very very very relaxing! Almost always on a low pace, without strange changes within a song, nothing unexpected but always with an atmosphere as if Traffic was playing the record live in your living room. And all this just to satisfy you on your chill-out moment of the day or that nice and easy Sunday morning. That's the feeling this record gives me. The voice of Winwood is always pleasent, the wind-section gentle and the guitar are weeping. The quality of this band needs no discussion, this is top notch soul/soft rock.

Conclusion. This is the kind of music you like, but forget to buy because of all the bombastic interesting prog-releases. Still this is a great achievement of mixing styles into a soul-format. A professional record by an easy'goin' band. Three stars. But I still don't understand why this isn't listed as prog-related.

Report this review (#252865)
Posted Thursday, November 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars I wonder how many FM radio listeners picked up this album based on the heavy rotation of the title track and were either confused or disappointed by the rest of the record. Even so, this was another step in the right direction for a band that had risen like a phoenix just a year prior to record the stellar 'John Barleycorn Must Die' and were now all enjoying a resurgence of interest in their back catalog, not to mention the various side projects they had been involved in (Blind Faith, Ginger Baker's Air Force, Spencer Davis Group, Family among others).

The lineup expanded for this release, although the core group of Steve Winwood, Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi remained though Capaldi's participation was heavily augmented by the troubled yet brilliant session drummer Jim Gordon and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah (who would remain with the band until their 1974 demise).

And that title track is surely the showcase of the album, a brilliant, sparse jazzy tome with instrumental highlights by just about everyone in the band. If I remember right there was a radio-edit version of this song that eliminated many of the instrumental breaks as well as most of the long, slow lead-in and closing; but the original is well worth listening to in its entirety to fully appreciate the exceptional showmanship and technical talent of this impressive assemblage of artists. This song appears to this day on most 'Top XXX Songs of All-Time" lists.

The follow-up "Light Up or Leave Me Alone" is a rare Capaldi composition and while it includes several extended instrumental passages including some funky blues guitar from Winwood, it doesn't come close to the majesty of 'Low Spark'.

"Rock & Roll Stew" comes off a bit better mostly thanks to a wicked bass line courtesy of former Family & Blind Faith bassist Ric Grech and Kwaku Baah's funky percussion, as well as a echoed vocal track delivered by Winwood with some serious bite. The follow-on "Many a Mile to Freedom" is closer to the folksy tempo of earlier Traffic songs but with nary a trace of the psych touches that graced their first couple of albums. Wood comes across once again with some great though somewhat strained flute passages, as he does on the closing "Rainmaker", which makes an abrupt tempo shift midway to emphasize Winwood's grooving guitar atop Wood and his saxophone and Kwaku Baah's hand percussion. This is a sound the band would explore more fully and with great success on their final album 'When the Eagle Flies' a few year's later.

This isn't quite the unexpected masterpiece 'John Barleycorn' was a year prior, and truth be told the band was a commercial success in the U.S. by this time and were probably under pressure to deliver more radio-friendly music than what most of these tracks turned out to be. But it is still one of the top studio performances of the band and so deserves a four (out of five) star rating for the combined performances of six very solid musicians. Very well recommended.


Report this review (#289281)
Posted Monday, July 5, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars This and quite possibly the following album are the only reason Traffic's even featured on PA, I surmise. However, if you actually purchase "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" in hopes of hearing the former folk and psychedelic pop band suddenly hit up some prog influences you will be sorely disappointed. The only element of prog that they managed to snatch from the likes of Genesis, King Crimson, Yes, ELP etc. etc. etc. is the elongated song lengths and that was clearly a deadly mistake.

The sad truth is NONE of these songs are multi-part, or demonstrative of powerful instrument prowess, two factors that make prog such a lovable, interesting, and gripping genre for me. More or less, every song on here is either a simple ballad or rocker that is unhealthily fattened up by some of the most mind numbingly dull guitar or organ jams that I can even imagine. Steve Winwood proves to be a very undynamic and rambly soloist when handed the task of filling up space because the band can't give a damn and just write more songs.

Weird enough, I like all of the actual "song" parts on this album. It's a shame that the band didn't simply write more cute little three minutes songs because I like what I hear when it comes to the melodies. In fact, the shorties ("Hidden Treasure", "Rock and Roll Stew", and "Light up or Leave Me Alone") on here are all nice. "Hidden Treasure" contrary to what I said above, features a great Jethro Tull influence (Hey, any song with half-folkie, half-classically influenced flute playing cannot help but be compared to Tull in my mind) and makes for an excellent mystical folk ballad. "Rock & Roll Stew", a rocker that draws from some funk influences appeals to me with an engaging, slightly jagged chorus. And my personal fave "Light Up or Leave Me Alone" is another enticing rocker with an almost Cream stylization, a hard rocking riff and get this, it also has actually written instrumental sections that are quite entertaining and engaging. WTF?! On a Traffic record no less! I'm impressed! (I'm kidding, Traffic fanboys.)

As for the longies, they also have their moments but their 7 minute running times are completely superfluous and devoid of reason. The title track manages to putter and jerk around for 11 minute and speaking of the aforementioned "High Heeled Boys", the melody actually sounds like it could have written by the king of queens, Elton John. Oh and that isn't a bad thing either, in his prime Mr. Dwight was eons better at writing prog epics then Traffic themselves. Winwood could never hope to write "Funeral for a Friend", nuff said. The last two epics would and could have also been perfectly enjoyable endeavors if stripped of the padded jamming that nearly engulfs them. "Many a Mile to Freedom" has a catchy and quite in the "classic rock" vein electric piano riff along with some soulful Winwood vocals that warmly croon out a cozy melody. "Rainmaker" is a welcomed return to the Tull stylistics of "Hidden Treasure" and Chris Wood adds some ethereal flute lines that are quite 'rainy' indeed.

Bleh, never have such good melodies been so marred by such lousy boredom. When Winwood mutters "a few more miles to freedom", I can't help but agree. The current popularity of prog in 1971 was not a good influence for these guys because it really clouded their judgment on what is exceptable and what is just flat-out boring. And on their next album, they totally threw out short songs in favor for even longer jams...oh goodness. I'd rather be stuck on one of those rush hour bottleneck traffic jam on a freeway in Washington D.C than listen to Traffic jam. Despite some good points on here, don't expect me to pick "Fantasy Factory" up anytime soon. Ugh.

Album Grade: C+

Report this review (#293769)
Posted Sunday, August 8, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars A great rock album as well as a great Prog album (Eclectic? Crossover? Prog Related?) released in 1971 by Traffic. Folk, jazz, blues, funk, rock,'s all here. Once again Traffic delivers. While everyone knows the wonderful title track (which deserves it's reputation as one of the top rock songs of all time), there are also some other fine songs here, with "Many a Mile to Freedom", "Light up and Leave me Alone", and "Rainmaker" being my personal favorites. The other tracks are also good. While I can't give this a true 5 star rating as a true prog album, it deserves 4 stars at least. (Really 4 1/2). I am still unsure about whether this is Eclectic Prog or not. Maybe Prog Related? Proto-Prog? Whatever, it's a fine album in the history of rock and roll.
Report this review (#435168)
Posted Monday, April 18, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is an album that resonated with me as a kid growing up in the 70s. The title track is obviously the focal point of the album here, but there are gems found on the rest of the album as well. At the time I was listening to this album in my youth, I wasn't really aware of "progressive rock" - I only knew this was an album that I loved and couldn't get enough of. In fact when I listen to it now I still have trouble hearing it as a 'prog' album, I just consider it a great ROCK album. Along with John Barleycorn, this is the must-have Traffic record.
Report this review (#792411)
Posted Sunday, July 22, 2012 | Review Permalink
2 stars Another heterogeneous grab-bag along the lines of John Barleycorn, the appeal of Traffic's The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys. Once again apparently unable to choose between folk-rock, proto-prog, psyche and straight ahead rock, and responding to this indecision by dithering around between the various genres they'd flirted with rather than coming up with a really interesting fusion with them. The stylistic gear change between the folky opener Hidden Treasure and the jazzy, mellow title track could give listeners whiplash. On top of that, given that it takes up 12 minutes of the album, the title track could really do with a bit of polishing - as it stands, it's a plodding, repetitive mess, with instrumental breaks which don't quite justify the tedium.
Report this review (#932123)
Posted Monday, March 18, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars Traffic's 1971 release of the oddly named The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys gives off an air of great stylistic qualities, and has deservingly been noted as the band's greatest achievement. Unlike Gentle Giant, another well known band of the eclectic progressive genre, Traffic's music tends to slow-dance over the line of folk rock, jazz, and of course eclectic rock. ,Low Spark b has many odd structures, which become very prominent as the album progresses. I found myself loving the album despite its thorough lack of tracks.

Medieval sounding bard music slips in (much like Gentle Giant did) quite often. In the opening track 'Hidden Treasure', with soothing sounds that bring you sights of far off places and a subtle air of adventure. Although I found the track to be the only one I can't particularly listen to over again, mostly due to being so bland in light of the rest of its brethren. However, the track's slow tell-tale lyrics and minor progression is simply a lead into the eleven minute eponymous piece that is described as the center of the entire album. 'The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys' is a track that seems much shorter than it actually is, mostly due to it's enjoyable yet sometimes repetitive nature. But smooth jazz it is so I won't delve too deep into it.

One small, mostly unnoticeable problem I had with Low Spark was the seemingly indecisive way Traffic chose the structure of the tracks. With every song there is a different listen, aside from a small similarity between the title track's climax and the straight up rocker of 'Rock & Roll Stew', but even then the latter being much more aggressive takes away any prior similarities that you'd hear while scrolling through the tracks. In my opinion, a variegated line up of tracks qualifies as an album that never gives you a dull moment.

On the point of the rockier tracks, the most distinguished being 'Rock & Roll Stew' and 'Light Up Or Leave Me Alone'. Having never been a fan of soft rock pretending to be greater than it is, the former of the two I've found to enjoy much more often. 'Light Up', especially during the later parts however does bring to the table alot of Who-like rocking, but because of this seems like a song stuck in the 60's. Enjoyable, yes of course, but not something I come back to very often. 'Rock & Roll Stew', living up to it's name, brings a great deal of mixed rock soup including some excellent funk. Combine that with the great vocals from Winwood and you have quite the delicious stew!

The slower tracks that the album retains are 'Many a Mile to Freedom' and 'Rainmaker'. The former sort of takes elements from the rest of the album, combining 'Hidden Treasure'-like softness and the subtle yet quietened rocking of 'Rock & Roll Stew'. This makes up for quite an adventure, especially one that I can sit through for seven and a half minutes and not complain about. 'Rainmaker' is perhaps my favorite song off of the album, being the one that first appealed to me while scrolling through the tracks. It bears a haunting melody and lyrics of a farmer reminiscing of his crops' unfortunate fate from drought. The theme of the song most likely derives to the tale of John Barleycorn told in the prior album, but I feel like this song takes the cake for most complex and best-sounding.

In an overall sense, The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys is an album that goes very under appreciated in the world of the general music population, and unjustly so. If you haven't thoroughly heard or never heard this album at all, then I think you should find the vinyl and give it a spin. It is quite enjoyable. 4/5 rounded to 5.

Report this review (#1428610)
Posted Friday, June 19, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars In 1971, the line-up of the band was expanded to include Reebop Kwaku Baah (congas, timbales, bongos) and Jim Gordon (drums). At that time, Jim Capaldi wanted to have a more prominent role in the band as lead and backing singer. So, maybe that was the main reason to have Gordon as drummer. Anyway, with Capaldi and Reebop the band had a more percussive sound, with both of them contributing very good things to the band. And in this album Capaldi sang lead vocals in two songs, a thing that only happened in this album while he was in the band.

This album is very well played, recorded and mixed. Maybe more than "John Barleycorn Must Die". Maybe they had more time to rehearse and to record this album in 1971, which was recorded after their "Welcome to the Canteen" live album wihich had Dave Mason as guest (he was guest in six dates that the band played during July 1971, but he left the band again after this happened). This new studio album was recorded in September 1971 and was released in November 1971. By December 1971, both Ric Grech and Jim Gordon have left the band.

In this album, the band again showed the influences from Jazz and Folk music.

"Hidden Treasure" (Winwood /Capaldi) is a slow acoustic song with good flute arrangements with Folk influences.

"The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" (Winwood /Capaldi) is a very good song with Jazz influences with good piano and organ solos by Steve Winwood and good sax solos by Chris Wood.

"Rock and Roll Stew" (Ric Grech / Jim Gordon) is a rocker with good guitars by Steve Winwood and sung by Capaldi. This song was played in concert by the band even after Grech and Gordon (the composers of this song) left the band.

"Many a Mile to Freedom" (Winwood / Anna Capaldi) is also a good slow song with very good arrangements.

"Light Up or Leave Me Alone" (Capaldi) is a very good Pop Rock song, sung by Capaldi. This song maybe was played better in concert, like the title song of this album. Having two songs to sing in this album maybe gave Capaldi more confidence to compose more songs alone and to record his first solo album titled "Oh How We Danced", which he recorded in December 1971 and was released in April 1972.

"Rainmaker" (Winwood / Capaldi) is mostly a Folk music influenced song with very good flute and sax arrangements by Wood. It shows how great was his influence as musician in TRAFFIC despite not writing songs for this album. It also has a very good final part with a very good violin solo played by Grech and some very good percussion arrangements by Capaldi and Reebop. Steve Winwood`s official website says that in this song the drums were played by Mike Kellie, member of SPOOKY TOOTH.

This album is very good. Also the cover design is very good and original. The same happened with the cover design of their next album, "Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory", which was designed by the same person (Tony Wright).

Report this review (#1428780)
Posted Saturday, June 20, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars This was the release the band was building up to their whole career. For me, their earlier albums are all-over-the- place, but this is where they succeed in finding their sound.

The band leans more towards rock than prog, ditching the symphonic overtones and heavy instrumentation even in their longest song. Each song is slow and bluesy but not dragging; Light Up Or Leave Me Alone, notably.

Hidden Treasure and Rainmaker are my personal favorites, but who could forget their most recognizable hit, The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys? Traffic's lyricism hits its peak on this 12 minute track, but you can interpret it however you like. I lose it whenever the piano solo comes up - it is the pinnacle of jazz-rock blended with eclectic rock.

Report this review (#2231934)
Posted Wednesday, June 19, 2019 | Review Permalink
4 stars The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys is a very good album and the equal to its predecessor, John Barleycorn Must Die. In fact, I'd say it's nearly John Barleycorn Must Die II.

The first incarnation of Traffic had two viable lead vocalists, guitarist Dave Mason and keyboardist Steve Winwood. But when the group reformed for John Barleycorn, it was comprised only of Winwood (who also played guitar and bass), multi-instrumentalist Chris Wood, and drummer Jim Capaldi. Confusingly, when the band doubled in size for The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, two of the new members, Jim Gordon and Rebop Kwaku Baah, were drummers/percussionists. Rounding out the six-piece was bassist Ric Grech. So Traffic had three members dedicated to percussion, but no full-time guitarist.

Of the six compositions here, the four strongest are the Winwood-Capaldi compositions, all of which are sung by Winwood. Whereas Winwood did most of the singing on John Barleycorn, Capaldi sings lead on two songs here, "Rock & Roll Stew," written by Grech and Gordon, and "Light Up or Leave Me Alone," written by Capaldi himself. Both sound a bit out of place, but not because of Capaldi's vocals. "Rock & Roll Stew" is a good album-oriented rock song, reminding me a little of the Hollies, while "Light Up" sounds like the Doors, post-Morrison. Other than those two, the closest Traffic comes to a rocker here is the title song, featuring some surprisingly good lead guitar work by Winwood.

Despite the band's psychedelic proto-prog beginnings and its frequent jazziness, the fairest classification of Traffic as a prog-rock act "progressive folk." Indeed, half of The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys is comprised of three excellent folk-rock songs, "Hidden Treasure," "Many a Mile to Freedom," and "Rainmaker." Each is pastoral but not sing-song, and each balances the group's guitar-rock orientation with colorful chords and the judicious use of Wood's flute and Baah's congas.

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys represents Traffic at their best, so I'd recommend it to anyone whose interest in the band has been piqued by having heard a song or two of theirs on the radio. Fans of prog-folk will also probably find plenty to enjoy here.

Report this review (#2242574)
Posted Thursday, August 8, 2019 | Review Permalink

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