Saturday, 8 June 2019

Traffic




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The albums included here are:-

The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys (1971)
Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory (1973)
and Traffic Gold

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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THE LOW SPARK OF HIGH-HEELED BOYS (1971)

1. Hidden Treasure
2. The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys
3. Light Up Or Leave Me Alone
4. Rock 'n' Roll Stew
5. Many A Mile To Freedom                       
6. Rainmaker    
                                                  
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 opening track, Hidden Treasure as with a fair few others, features some Jethro Tull-inspired flute amongst other flawlessly played instrumental passages. The sound quality on these recordings really is outstanding.

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.

Light Up Or Leave Me Alone features some bluesy guitar breaks and a more blues rock/funk groove than the previous tracks. Again, Ric Grech’s bass is excellent, along with some stunning guitar at the end. Rock n' Roll Stew is a slow burning, insistently rhythmic rocker with some potent drumming on it. It is probably the most conventional 70s “rock” number on the album, but even this has its bluesy moments. Many A Mile To Freedom is a laid back number with some excellent guitar parts either side of those vocal periods.

Rainmaker sees the flute return in an ethereal opening that puts one in mind of Fairport Convention. All a bit folky/hippy, though, with lyrics about the rain “making all my crops grow” and the like. Once again, though, one can just concentrate on the fabulous guitar/saxophone fade out, which sounds just like one used by Paul Weller on his 1993 debut album.

Someone said at the time that Traffic were “relaxed and exciting at the same time”, which would seem to be a perfrect way of describing their 70s output. You can listen to this over and over and still find new bits to appreciate.

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SHOOT OUT AT THE FANTASY FACTORY (1973)

1. Shoot out At The Fantasy Factory
2. Roll Right Stones
3. Evening Blue
4. Tragic Magic
5. (Sometimes I Feel So) Uninspired       

The opening track, Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory is a marvellous, pulsating piece of Santana meets Hendrix and they do some blues rock, while asking for some Jethro Tull-inspired flute. Great stuff. 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 nearly twelve minutes, 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.

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TRAFFIC GOLD

  

This is an excellent compilation covering Traffic's output from the late sixties psychedelic/folk rock period to the funky jazz rock, slightly prog-rock-ish extended grooves of the early-mid seventies. The years concerned are 1967-1974. The sound, as if often the case on these "Gold" compilations, is absolutely superb, remastered, bassy and in excellent stereo.

The sixties material includes druggy, trippy numbers such as Paper Sun and Dealer, with its frantic bongos, flutes and typically psychedelic vocals. Coloured Rain pretty much sums up the kaleidoscope feel of the age, man. Hole In My Shoe was a big hit, with its Eastern percussion and guitar and bizarre, detached vocals about a shoe letting in water. It is such an evocative track of its age. I remember as a kid being quite fascinated by its sound. The plaintive No Face, No Name, No Number is also a very nostalgic late sixties number, again full of those contemporary Eastern influences that seemed to be almost compulsory at the time. You can really hear the inventive, experimental nature of the group's music in Heaven Is In Your Mind. Yes, it is all a bit late sixties, dreamy-style, but there is some serious adventurous instrumentation in tracks like this. The guitar at the end is not the first time I will mention Paul Weller, who must have listened to this before writing Can You Heal Us Holy Man in 1993. Smiling Phases perfectly mixes hippy sixties rock with soul, exemplifying what made Traffic stand out from the crowd. They married all sorts of styles.

Feelin' Alright showed the band's desire to produce some funky edges to their rock. You Can All Join In is lyrically not the best, but the guitar sound is excellent. Pearly Queen had touches of late sixties/early seventies blues rock, and featured some serious heavy guitar soloing too. Dear Mr. Fantasy showed the first touches of that extended, bassy and soulful rock that would so influence artists like Paul Weller many years later. The same applies to Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring, with its jazzy touches and swirling melodic organ together with a Stax-y soul vocal.

The seventies material includes the funk rock of Light Up Or Leave Me Alone, the solid, funky, inventive rock of Rock & Roll Stew, title tracks from the albums The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys and Shoot Out At The Fantasy FactoryRainmaker is very "proggy" in its lyrics and vocal delivery, also in its Jethro Tull-ish instrumentation, with flute to the fore. All very dreamy and trippy. Some Doors influences in there too. You can again hear the style Paul Weller would be influenced by so much in Empty Pages. Weller was also highly influenced by tracks like Glad for his CafĂ© Bleu Style Council material in 1984.

There is also the authentic folk of John Barleycorn Must Die and one of my favourites, the catchy, organ-driven slightly Dylanesque and wonderful Walking In The Wind. Overall, this is a highly recommended collection of excellent material from this influential band that straddled the musical changes of the late sixties and early seventies with confidence.

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