This was Traffic's debut album and, while it considerably recovers its form in its second half it was, for me, at times, appallingly and unnecessarily pandering to the contemporary comedic, music hall style that seemed to be so prevalent in 1967. It seemed that, post Sgt. Pepper, every British group had to go a bit vaudeville. Yes, this was still a creative, innovative and pretty good album, but in a few places I find it indulgent and irritating. The eponymous second album, from 1968, is probably the better of the two, although most critics would seem to disagree with me. I know what they mean and, being a bit more level-headed, I will concede that there is probably little between the two.
No Face, No Name, No Number restores the quality considerably with a sombre, evocative ballad. It was later covered by Bryan Ferry. This was a really good one. Even more like it was the excellent Dear Mr. Fantasy - a proper Traffic rock song with a vaguely funky bass line, great guitar soloing and not a silly, exaggerated posh English music hall voice to be heard anywhere. It is the album's best track, as far as I am concerned, by far. It has that special, unique, distinctly Traffic sound and also features a pre-Midnight Rambler frantic, harmonica-driven ending, two years before the Stones song. Dealer is similarly impressive, very much of its time, but quite ground-breaking in its bleak, cynical, drug-questioning message. It has some excellent rhythmic percussion parts, great bass and flute too. As it was 1967, there must be some Indian instruments somewhere along the line - sitar, tabla and the like - Utterly Simple delivered this in a very Within You Without You number. It is appealing but hardly original. Eastern influences were everywhere by late 1967, man. Coloured Rain is a psychedelic and appealing Beatles-esque number, all very hippy. That pre-Roxy Music saxophone is parping around all over the place. The vocals are in a style that David Bowie would adopt over the next few years. Indeed, the track would not have sounded out of place on The Man Who Sold The World, particularly the drums and lead guitar. Hope I Never Find Me There is another one that may well have influenced the burgeoning Bowie in its ethereal, dreamy hippiness. Giving To You starts off dreadfully but redeems itself a little as it proceeds into a solid enough rock jam - something Traffic would come to specialise in over the years.
** The bonus tracks give us the very sixties pop-psych sound of Paper Sun, which is very "freakbeat". It again features Eastern influences; there was another hit single in the equally Eastern vibe of Hole In My Shoe. This was a song I distinctly remember from my childhood. (I was eight at the time); and finally Smiling Phases, which was a convincing and powerful Traffic rock song, less poppy and more "serious".
The sound on the stereo mastering is superb, as indeed is the mono. There is nothing to choose between either of them, for me.
From October 1968, this was a bit of a patchwork album, vacillating between Steve Winwood's psychedelic, bluesy rock and Dave Mason's winsome folk rock material. This is a bit of an inconsistent statement, however, as Mason's tracks contain some strong rock parts too. Mason, incidentally left the group after this album. Personally, I much prefer this offering to the previous one, my feelings towards which I have expressed in the above review.
The album contained a Traffic classic in Feelin' Alright, a song that was covered by many artists, including genuine soul ones such as Gladys Knight, Isaac Hayes, The Undisputed Truth and Diana Ross & The Supremes as well as Paul Weller and, notably, Joe Cocker. It was written by Mason and is another that broke away from the folk sound to produce what was a pretty funky rock groove. It actually sounds more like a Winwood song. Vagabond Virgin is a lively, breezy hippy-ish ditty with some of those nice Chris Wood flute breaks that were often found on Traffic songs. Forty Thousand Headmen is a druggy slice of late sixties lyrical indulgence, but musically it has a mysterious ambience and punch to it. Again, you can hear Paul Weller from the mid-nineties in it. It merges seamlessly into Mason's jazzy, psychedelic folk of Cryin' To Be Heard. No Time To Live is a sombre, piano-driven ballad with a bit of an overbearing feel to it. The mood is lifted up again on the infectious funky strains of Means To An End.
** Of the bonus tracks, Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush begins like Joe Cocker's With A Little Help From My Friends before it breaks out into a rousing piece of late sixties psychedelic rock complete with circus-y parts; Am I What I Was Or Am I What I Am is also very typical of its era, very psychedelic; Withering Tree is a muscular serving of pre-prog rock; Medicated Goo was actually a single but it is not particularly commercial. It is a solid late sixties mid-pace rocker with a great bass line, particularly near the end in conjunction with brass and the lead guitar; Shanghai Noodle Factory is a delicious piece of comparative nonsense with some fine acoustic guitar, drums and organ. It comes to an abrupt end.
After Traffic's 1968 album had not ended up as the double album it was originally planned as, the group suddenly split and the record company were left with some surplus material. So, they issued this album which, although containing only seven songs. broke the thirty minute mark. It effectively became Traffic's final album. Or so it was thought at the time, before they reformed.
Something's Got A Hold Of My Toe is a really enjoyable, kick ass rocking instrumental, with organ breaks galore and great guitar too. Withering Tree was a 'B' side and is another robust, muscular rock number, with a slower pace this time and a fetching, slightly jazzy piano backing. It is, as with many Traffic songs, the sort that would seriously influence Paul Weller in the nineties. Feeling Good is a ten minute-plus live cut that suffers slightly from a muffled sound, but only slightly, it is still listenable. The song is probably best known for its Nina Simone version. Here it is given the full extended Traffic "jam" treatment - proggy organ, rolling drums, cutting guitar and occasional vocals.
Glad is a quirky and catchy instrumental that, although it features some jazzy saxophone, harks back somewhat to the group's 1968 work. The track has often received airplay as backing music over the years, particularly its rolling piano break. Its loose, attractive rhythms are a pleasure from beginning to end and it was pretty influential - you hear snatches of other tracks in it. Well I do anyway.
As with other 70s Traffic albums, The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys featured different forms and offshoots of rock including jazz rock, progressive rock and often a melodious, funky bass line. Saxophone and piano abound, backing the now usual perplexing Pink Floyd influenced lyrics.
The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys is an eleven minute tour de force, featuring some intoxicating saxophone, addictive bass lines, seductive congas and some piano breaks that surely influenced Bruce Hornsby nearly twenty years later. As with many of these extended Traffic songs, the lyrics are just incidental, rather like on some Santana tracks from the same period. Or indeed the jazz rock of Chicago or Blood, Sweat & Tears. They just waft in and out of the tracks, like an instrumental solo.
The also Jethro-Tull-ish Roll Right Stones (in places) lasts a full thirteen minutes, but it retains a unique feel with its fantastic bass and conga interplay. You have to say that Traffic overdid it a bit with sprawling workouts like this, but it was within the spirit of the age in 1973, at least some of it. Traffic avoided some of the worst excesses of “prog rock” by never going down the road of fairies and fantasies, lyrically and by always paying homage to funk, conga-driven rhythms and addictive bass lines. There is a touch of Pink Floyd about parts of Roll Right Stones, however. Despite its being over twelve minutes' in length, however, it never gets tiresome. What you always got from Traffic was high quality musicianship. This album, although not seeming to be as critically acclaimed as others, is no different. Listen to some of the guitar and organ interplay on Roll Right Stones, then the congas and piano and saxophone at around nine-ten minutes in.
Evening Blue is a lovely, immaculately-played bucolic number that 1990s-era Paul Weller would have loved, and probably did. Lovely laid back saxophone solo in it too. Tragic Magic is a saxophone-dominated instrumental that sounds as if it would be a good backing track for a soul/rock outfit like. Traffic were definitely always on the rock, funk and soul side of things. The final track, though, (Sometimes I Feel So) Uninspired, sees Traffic at their most Pink Floyd-esque with an introspective, self-pitying number. Great backing on it, though, as always. Like 1973's Goat's Head Soup by The Rolling Stones, this album was recorded in Jamaica.
When The Eagle Flies (1974)
Something New is a short, bassy and vaguely funky opener. It is a really enjoyable track, despite being shorter than most on the album. The bass, guitar and piano are all superb on it. Traffic liked a lengthy song in the early-mid seventies, and Dream Gerrard is an impressive, ten minute serving of rock with a slight jazzy edge to it. Once more the deep, rumbling bass is killer, as too is what sounds like an oboe (probably a keyboard) , and Jim Capaldi’s drums too. Steve Winwood’s vocals are probably the weakest thing about what is otherwise a really fine track. Music like this was far removed from the poppy glam fare of 1974. It was way, way ahead of its time. Prog rock was big at the time, of course, but that involved multiple tempo changes, whereas this just got into a groove and basically stayed there. I like that approach. Give me this over prog any day. It is also well known that Paul Weller was heavily influenced by Traffic, and you can hear snatches of some of his instrumental sounds here.
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