Sunday, October 23, 2016

Traffic - 1968 [1988] "Traffic"

Traffic was an English rock band, formed in Birmingham in 1967. The group formed in April 1967 by Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood and Dave Mason. They began as a psychedelic rock group and diversified their sound through the use of instruments such as keyboards like the Mellotron and harpsichord, sitar, and various reed instruments, and by incorporating jazz and improvisational techniques in their music. Their first three singles were "Paper Sun", "Hole in My Shoe", and "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush".
After disbanding in 1969, during which time Winwood joined Blind Faith, Traffic reunited in 1970 to release the critically acclaimed album John Barleycorn Must Die. The band's line-up varied from this point until they disbanded again in 1975. A partial reunion, with Winwood and Capaldi, took place in 1994.

 Traffic is the second studio album by the English rock band Traffic, released in 1968 on Island Records in the United Kingdom as ILP 981T (mono)/ILPS 9081T (stereo), and United Artists in the United States, as UAS 6676 (stereo). It peaked at number 9 in the UK albums chart and at number 17 on the Billboard 200. It was the last album recorded by the group before their initial breakup.

In January 1968, after some initial success in Britain with their debut album Mr. Fantasy, Dave Mason had departed from the group. He produced the debut album by the group Family, containing in its ranks future Traffic bass player Ric Grech, while Traffic went on the road. In May, the band had invited Mason back to begin recording the new album.
Mason ended up writing and singing half of the songs on the album (including his biggest hit "Feelin' Alright?"), but making scant contribution to the songs written by Jim Capaldi and Steve Winwood. His flair for pop melody had always been at odds with the others' jazz ambitions, evidenced by the dichotomy seen for the songs on this album, and by October he was again out of the band. He would return one more time for a tour and album in 1971 to run out the band's contract.
Traffic was reissued for compact disc in the UK on 11 January 2000, with five bonus tracks, two from the soundtrack to the United Artists film Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush and three from Last Exit. In the US, the remastered reissue of 27 February 2001 included mono single mixes of "You Can All Join In," "Feelin' Alright?," and "Withering Tree." The original album was produced by Jimmy Miller. The remasters were assisted in their production by Jim Capaldi.

After dispensing with his services in December 1967, the remaining members of Traffic reinstated Dave Mason in the group in the spring of 1968 as they struggled to write enough material for their impending second album. The result was a disc evenly divided between Mason's catchy folk-rock compositions and Steve Winwood's compelling rock jams. Mason's material was the most appealing both initially and eventually: the lead-off track, a jaunty effort called "You Can All Join In," became a European hit, and "Feelin' Alright?" turned out to be the only real standard to emerge from the album after it started earning cover versions from Joe Cocker and others in the 1970s. Winwood's efforts, with their haunting keyboard-based melodies augmented by Chris Wood's reed work and Jim Capaldi's exotic rhythms, work better as musical efforts than lyrical ones. Primary lyricist Capaldi's words tend to be impressionistic reveries or vague psychological reflections; the most satisfying is the shaggy-dog story "Forty Thousand Headmen," which doesn't really make any sense as anything other than a dream. But the lyrics to Winwood/Capaldi compositions take a back seat to the playing and Winwood's soulful voice. As Mason's simpler, more direct performances alternate with the more complex Winwood tunes, the album is well-balanced. It's too bad that the musicians were not able to maintain that balance in person; for the second time in two albums, Mason found himself dismissed from the group just as an LP to which he'd made a major contribution hit the stores. Only a few months after that, the band itself split up, but not before scoring their second consecutive Top Ten ranking in the U.K.; the album also reached the Top 20 in the U.S., breaking the temporarily defunct group stateside.

Considering that Traffic couldn't seem to stay intact for more than a few months at a time, the band's work seems even more remarkable. Recorded in the summer of 1968 and released later that fall, Traffic, the band's sophomore release, stands as the outfit's high-water mark and one of the great rock albums of its time. Clearly, Dave Mason and Steve Winwood had completely different visions for the band, both musically and socially. In fact, Mason had already left the band at the year's beginning, only to return a few short months later. Mason liked to work alone and favored rooted folk-tinged material; Winwood saw the band as a communal affair and leaned toward progressive jazz-influenced music. Of course, the synthesis of these two approaches is what makes Traffic such a terrific album. There's not a weak moment across these 10 songs (augmented on this reissue with three mono single mixes). By fusing bits of country and folk, wisps of psychedelia, and elements of jazz and soul, the album managed to both presage and summarize the ambitious developments of rock music during its most creative era.

Traffic had one of the most original (and interesting) sounds in British rock, and not only because of their eclectic musical influences, which embraced psychedelia, folk, jazz, soul, R&B, and even classical. Their unique sound was also the result of their unusual instrumentation. While the group went through a number of personnel changes, its constant core members were Steve Winwood (vocals, keyboards, guitars), Chris Wood (sax, flute, and organ), and Jim Capaldi (drums & percussion). With no regular bass player, Winwood often filled in with the bass pedals on his organ. And, while there is no lack of guitars on most Traffic recordings, the guitar is not emphasized or particularly important to the group's sound. Dave Mason came and went in their early years and, on other recordings, Steve Winwood would switch to guitar, with Chris Wood taking over organ duties. In short, Traffic was anything but your typical guitar-bass-drums rock outfit. And, with "white Ray Charles" prodigy Winwood at the helm, and with their willingness to experiment with virtually any sound or musical style, they cut some of the most distinctive and important records in British rock.
Their sophomore album, "Traffic," perfected the band's sound, and stands as one of the best albums in British rock. Psychedelic influences were still evident, but gone was the silly "Sgt. Pepper"-style trippiness of "Mr. Fantasy." Instead, Winwood and Capaldi perfected their jazzy take on psychedelic-soul, while Dave Mason turned in by far his best contributions with the group. Mason's "You Can All Join In" and "Feelin' Alright" (later popularized by Joe Cocker) are folk-rock gems, while Winwood's genius shines through on the whimsical but very funky "Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring" and the swampy jungle-rock epic "40,000 Headmen." Furthermore, in contrast with the cut-n-paste nature of Traffic's other LPs with Dave Mason, here there is real collaboration, as when a Mason folk-rocker climaxes with Winwood's soulful wailing on the refrain or the bridge ("Don't Be Sad," "Cryin' To Be Heard"). The overall result is a delicious paradox: a recording that is wildly eclectic, yet artistically cohesive.
If you haven't heard "Traffic," all I can say is, you don't know what you're missing.

Traffic was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

  Track Listing:

  1. You Can All Join In
  2. Pearly Queen
  3. Don't Be Sad
  4. Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring
  5. Feelin' Alright
  6. Vagabond Virgin
  7. Forty Thousand Headmen
  8. Cryin' to be Heard
  9. No Time To Live
  10. Means To An End

Personnel:

Dave Mason – lead vocals, guitar, harmonica
Steve Winwood – electric guitar, bass, backing vocals, organ, piano
Chris Wood –  saxophone, flute
Jim Capaldi – drums, percussion, backing vocals

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