Friday, March 11, 2016

Traffic - 1967 [2000] "Mr. Fantasy"

Mr. Fantasy is the debut studio album by English rock band Traffic. It was released in 1967. The recording included group members Jim Capaldi, Steve Winwood, Chris Wood, and Dave Mason; however, Mason left the band before the album was released. The album reached the number 16 position in the UK albums chart, and number 88 in the American Billboard charts.

The sitar, widely associated with this era of Traffic due to its use on the singles "Paper Sun" and "Hole in My Shoe," is only used on one track on the UK version of the album, "Utterly Simple".
The first US version of the album on United Artists Records was titled Heaven Is in Your Mind and had a cover that featured all members of the group except Dave Mason. The title was quickly changed back to Mr. Fantasy, but the new cover remained until Island Records reissued the UK version in the late 1970s. Both the US and UK editions were released in substantially different stereo and mono mixes. One song in particular, "Giving to You", was released in 3 different versions, including similar mono and stereo versions from the UK album, plus a very different mono UK b-side mix, which also was later included on the US mono LP. The special UK b-side mix includes lyrics sung by Winwood during the introduction which are not heard on any other version. The soundtrack album for Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush also contains a recording of "Utterly Simple" which is a different take than the one used on this album.
For the original US edition, a short looping snippet of the group's single "Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush" was added between most of the songs. The LP also added three songs from the group's UK singles ("Paper Sun", "Hole in My Shoe", and "Smiling Phases") while deleting two Dave Mason songs "Hope I Never Find Me There" and "Utterly Simple." The final track on the US album, "We're A Fade, You Missed This", is actually the ending of the full length version of "Paper Sun."
The album was engineered by Phil Brown, who, when asked what was his favourite memory of engineering, responded: "Recording Dear Mr Fantasy, one o'clock in the morning, November 1967.

Rolling Stone gave the USA release an overwhelmingly positive review, calling it "an album which, although it needs one unity that time will provide, is one of the best from any contemporary group." They especially praised Steve Winwood's vocals ("probably the major blues voice of his generation") and Jim Capaldi's lyrics. They held that "the strongest points of this album are where the elements of Traffic's 'comprehensible far-out' and Winwood's great R&B style are combined", but deemed Mason's contributions to be good enough in their own right. The review is noted for containing several major errors, including claiming that Chris Wood was Traffic's bassist and that Dave Mason did the lead vocal on "Paper Sun".
Allmusic's retrospective review was positive, calling Traffic's music "eclectic, combining their background in British pop with a taste for the comic and dance hall styles of Sgt. Pepper, Indian music, and blues-rock jamming."

Since Traffic's debut album, Mr. Fantasy, has been issued in different configurations over the years, a history of those differences is in order. In 1967, the British record industry considered albums and singles separate entities; thus, Mr. Fantasy did not contain the group's three previous Top Ten U.K. hits. Just as the album was being released in the U.K., Traffic split from Dave Mason. The album was changed drastically for U.S. release, both because American custom was that singles ought to appear on albums, and because the group sought to diminish Mason's presence; on the first pressing only, the title was changed to Heaven Is in Your Mind. In 2000, Island reissued Mr. Fantasy in its mono mix with the U.K. song list and five mono singles sides as bonus tracks; it also released Heaven Is in Your Mind, the American lineup in stereo with four bonus tracks. Naturally, the mono sound is punchier and more compressed, but it isn't ideal for the album, because Traffic was fashioned as an unusual rock band. Steve Winwood's primary instrument was organ, though he also played guitar; Chris Wood was a reed player, spending most of his time on flute; Mason played guitar, but he was also known to pick up the sitar, among other instruments. As such a mixture suggests, the band's musical approach was eclectic, combining their background in British pop with a taste for the comic and dance hall styles of Sgt. Pepper, Indian music, and blues-rock jamming. Songs in the last category have proven the most distinctive and long-lasting, but Mason's more pop-oriented contributions remain winning, as do more light-hearted efforts. Interest in the mono mix is likely to be restricted to longtime fans; anyone wishing to hear Traffic's first album for the first time is directed to Heaven Is in Your Mind

Traffic are rightly remembered today as titans of jazz-rock and soul — but on their 1967 debut album, ‘Mr. Fantasy,’ released 46 years ago this month, Steve Winwood and company were busy riding the psychedelic coattails of ‘Sgt. Pepper.‘

It’s a fascinating outlier in the Traffic discography: They never made another collection like it, and “collection” is the most fitting descriptor for ‘Mr. Fantasy,’ since the songs have been re-assembled and re-bundled in so many configurations throughout the years that calling it a legitimate album almost feels inaccurate.

The original UK version was an album in the traditional ’60s sense, following the Beatles‘ blueprint of leaving off hit singles (like the groovy, sitar-driven ‘Paper Sun’ and Dave Mason’s irresistibly goofy psych-pop sing-along ‘Hole in My Show’). The US version rectified that problem, re-packing the album as ‘Heaven is in Your Mind’ with those classic tracks included (not to mention a drastically re-tooled track order).

Even without the hits, ‘Mr. Fantasy’ is a revealing collection, showcasing a band in transition. Some of the material feels a bit dated (Mason’s stiar-led ‘Utterly Simple,’ clearly influenced by George Harrison‘s recent experiments with the instrument, devolves into a corny Moody Blues-esque spoken word bit), and occasionally the material feels inextricably tied to its era (the stereo-panned vocals and explosions of reverb on ‘Heaven Is In Your Mind’), but every inch of these songs are expertly arranged, exploding with raw creativity and instrumental power: ‘No Face, No Name, No Number’ is a psych-folk gem, laced with Chris Wood’s haunting flute and Dave Mason’s exotic tambura lines but driven to ecstasy by Winwood’s soulful belting. ‘Coloured Rain’ blends Wood’s honky sax and Jim Capaldi’s driving percussion into an early blues-rock gem, bested only by the semi-title-track ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy,’ an expansive masterpiece built on Winwood’s aching vocal (not to mention his mesmerizing skills on guitar and organ).

Traffic, of course, was never a traditional rock band. Capaldi was a singing-writing drummer; Wood’s reed instruments gave the band a unique flexibility; Mason, the band’s short-lived wild card, loved odd instrumentation and wrote firmly with tongue-in-cheek; and Winwood, a young, white Englishman, sang with the husky, hard-lived soul of an early Delta bluesman. It was an strange combination on paper, but the effect was unmistakably vibrant.

Mason didn’t stick around long. In fact, he left before ‘Mr. Fantasy’ was even officially released (He isn’t even featured on the ‘Heaven Is In Your Mind’ album cover); he would re-join the band for their self-titled album in 1968 (at which point they’d more or less ditched the psychedelic approach altogether in favor of tight, soulful rock) and an expansive 1971 tour that produced the live album, ‘Welcome to the Cantine.’ Ultimately, though, Mason’s style never fully gelled with the others': Winwood, Wood, and Capaldi would serve as Traffic’s core trio throughout their fruitful classic ’70s period.

But even if ‘Mr. Fantasy’ isn’t a representative Traffic album, or even their most consistent batch of songs, it still captures the restless creativity of a band destined for bigger and better things.

Tracks Listing

Original UK version
1. Heaven Is in Your Mind (4:16)
2. Berkshire Poppies (2:55)
3. House for Everyone (2:05)
4. No Face, No Name, No Number (3:35)
5. Dear Mr. Fantasy (5:44)
6. Dealer (3:34)
7. Utterly Simple (3:16)
8. Coloured Rain (2:43)
9. Hope I Never Find Me There (2:12)
10. Giving to You (4:20)
11. Paper Sun (4:15)
12. Giving To You (UK mono single version) (4:12)
13. Hole In My Shoe (2:54)
14. Smiling Faces (2:43)
15. Here We Go 'Round The Mulberry Bush (2:18)

Line-up / Musicians

- Steve Winwood / vocals, guitar, piano, harpsichord, organ, bass, percussion
- Dave Mason / vocals, guitar, sitar, tamboura, shakkai, Mellotron, bass
- Chris Wood / vocals, flute, saxophone, organ
- Jim Capaldi / vocals, drums, percussion



  2. Chiquilicuatre y ZappaMarch 12, 2016 at 2:36 AM

    many thanks, wonderful album