Saturday, May 28, 2011
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: TRAFFIC - JOHN BARLEYCORN MUST DIE DELUXE
This British band has all but left the rock elite status, despite having gold records, famous members, and a legacy as one of the top touring groups in their late 60's-early 70's heyday. Perhaps it's because the unit never had a North American hit single, finding favour on the FM dial instead. So they don't get much classic rock airplay, aside from the occasional airing of the title cut of this collection, now newly remastered with the requisite bonus disc of early versions and a long live set of the time.
Yet Traffic was where Stevie Winwood chose to reside longer than his more famous bands, the Spencer Davis Group and Blind Faith. In fact, he got along so well with his colleagues they put the band back together only a year after an initial break to make this collection. The genesis of Barleycorn was a solo project of Winwood's. Two of the original six on the album were actually recorded with Winwood providing all the instruments, even the drums. Yes, the boy wonder was capable of this with multi-tracking, but in the end he much preferred playing with others, so ex-travelers in Traffic Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood were invited to add parts. Finally it became obvious it might as well be a full-fledged reunion, and Traffic Mark II proved even more successful than the original version, despite Dave Mason being absent for his solo career.
So, it was the above trio that set these songs out, largely written by Winwood and drummer Capaldi. Wood added flute and sax, and together they crafted a unique fusion of R'n'B, psych rock, prog, jazz, and folk. Okay, really, everything could and would go in, whatever felt right, and certainly no other band had that strong British folk influence, at least in the big rock scene. Actually the best-known song here, Barleycorn, stands alone in its complete folk flavour, an old 17th tale about attempts to wipe out corn liquor drinking. As different as it is from the R'n'B of the rest of the disc, it also overshadows the other material. It's a very enjoyable track, and as it's folk, still sounds great and undated.
Fans will want to upgrade for this deluxe edition. There are 3 fully-finished, different versions of album tracks from the initial Winwood-solo version of the album, very different and quite worthy as well. That includes version one of Barleycorn, an even more traditional version, perhaps a bit busier, but a good effort. The rest is a Fillmore East concert, with the band expanded to a four-piece, using ex-Blind Faith bassist Ric Grech, who would join as a full member after the tour. Since it's Winwood, his famous voice makes everything that much better live, and it's nice to have a concert from the smaller line-up of the band. By the next year, they'd expand to be a six-piece, and release the live Welcome To The Canteen album.