Traffic – Traffic (1968): Review

traffic

Produced by Jimmy Miller
Label – Island/United Artists

Traffic were more than just an interim vehicle for the developing career of Steve Winwood, and although the Birmingham four piece would be together for just 2 years and 2 albums before Winwood formed what was considered the first “supergroup” with Blind Faith, this band leave a fine legacy of psychedelic rock, and their second album “Traffic” remains their most coherent, consistent work.

Having already achieved commercial success with their debut, the wildly drug influenced “Mr Fantasy” which included the hits “Paper Sun” and “Hole In My Shoe”, the band dispensed with the services of singer/songwriter and vocalist Dave Mason, and travelled to rural Berkshire to write and rehearse songs for a follow up. Quickly realising they were struggling to put together some strong material, they then re-instated Mason, and his input would form a large part of the forthcoming album. Where Winwood and Jim Capaldi’s music was psychedelically exploratory, Mason’s work was earthier, English folk rock and the combination of the two styles works extremely well. Mason’s material is the far superior and memorable, with the excellent jaunty opener “You Can All Join In”, and the rolling pop folk “Feelin Alright ?”, it’s dissected by Winwood and Capaldi’s impressionistic rock workouts, which herald a tendency towards abstract lyrics and longer experimental instrumentals, almost fore running the prog folk of Jethro Tull and King Crimson. Other highlights include “Vagabond Virgin” (not withstanding the questionable lyrics), the sweeping avant-garde “40,000 Headmen”, and the progressive “Cryin’ To Be Heard”. The album would be a top 10 UK hit, and would make the top 20 in the States, but before the band could enjoy the commercial rewards, Mason was fired, and just a few months later Winwood announced that the band were to split. They reformed in 1970 (minus Mason), for the prog rock “John Barleycorn Must Die”, which when compared to this recording, sounds a world away.

“Traffic” is the logical extension of the British psychedelic rock tradition, all wrapped up in a Birmingham bonhomie that bites as hard as it barks.

8/10

Track Listing
A1 You Can All Join In 3:36
A2 Pearly Queen 4:20
A3 Don’t Be Sad 3:22
A4 Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring 3:13
A5 Feelin’ Alright? 4:17
B1 Vagabond Virgin 5:21
B2 Forty Thousand Headmen 3:14
B3 Cryin’ To Be Heard 5:13
B4 No Time To Live 5:18
B5 Means To An End 2:36

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