The release on 180g vinyl of six studio albums from Traffic- Mr. Fantasy, Traffic, John Barleycorn Must Die, The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys, Shootout At The Fantasy Factory, and When The Eagle Flies, marks the pressing of the remastered audio from 2019’s acclaimed boxset, Traffic – The Studio Albums 1967-74. As such, it gives the forever fans, as well as the freshly indoctrinated, another opportunity to appreciate how this exceptionally thoughtful ensemble- led mostly by Steve Winwood, Chris Wood, Jim Capaldi, and Dave Mason- gave the time, patience, and conscious care to the art of making albums. Listening in sequence, the evolution of this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band is once again fascinating, and delightful.
Essentially, Traffic fortified the bridge between the psychedelic English folk movement of the late ‘60s and an amalgam of American influences of blues, jazz, and soul in the early ‘70s, eventually even co-opting the famed Muscle Shoals rhythm section of bassist David Hood and drummer Roger Hawkins. Traffic’s was a journey of discovery, both shifting its identity after its first two releases, as well as developing an audience that went along for many an extended foray. The gestating dabbles of baroque and theatricality that tabbed Mr. Fantasy and its self-title follow-up were mostly left behind after a two-year hiatus (during which Winwood joined Eric Clapton in Blind Faith), supplanted by the smoke-filled underground sound of high heeled boys. Either light up or leave them alone.
Song counts went from ten down to as low as five (Shootout). The extended mood pieces that dominated side ones- “Roll Right Stones,” “Dream Gerrard,” and the Low Spark title track- became legendary centerpieces surrounded by immortal classics such as “Freedom Rider,” and “Rock and Roll Stew.” The emphasis and embrace of the album as a complete and complex thought was paramount.
If for no other reason than to experience a band of such talent taking full advantage of the medium at the height of expansion (minds and otherwise), this half-dozen vinyl haul from Traffic is as vital as it is historic.