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

THE LOW SPARK OF HIGH HEELED BOYS

Traffic

 

Eclectic Prog

4.06 | 313 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
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.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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