TRAFFIC Mr Fantasy (Simply Vinyl)
Ears more accustomed to Traffic's later jazz-folk oddyseys might find listening to their1967 debut an initially jarring experience: full of mad, Syd Barrett style effects such as the clockwork wind-up intro to "House For Everyone" and knockabout music-hall parodies such as "Berkshire Poppies", at times "Mr Fantasy" sounds a little like the work of a hallucinogen-addled psychedelic Madness - not necessarily a bad thing but something of a culture shock when approached from the direction of albums like "John Barleycorn Must Die" or the still vastly underrated seamless fusion of jazz and rock that blooms on the live double "On The Road". Nevertheless, this album has left its imprint on modern rock far more indelibly than any of its superior successors - what would Oasis' "Champagne Supernova" sounded like if not for "Dear Mr Fantasy", or speculate how Gomez might have turned out if they hadn't heard "Dealer" at an impressionable age?
Simply Vinyl's limited edition reissue of this long deleted album is exemplary: alongside their standard issue fine sounding 180 gram virgin vinyl pressing and protective plastic outer they've delved into the archives to reprint the photograph-laden insert that presumably came with the original issue of the album.
TRAFFIC Traffic (Simply Vinyl)
Traffic's eponymous second album was originally released in 1968, and arguably captures the original Winwood/Mason/Capaldi/Wood line-up at their finest. Stripped of much of the whimsy that makes their debut "Mr Fantasy" sound something of a period piece three decades later, "Traffic" is and Traffic are a cornucopia of dense, intelligent songwriting and instrument-hopping musical dexterity rivalled among their contemporaries possibly only by The Band.
None of the ten tracks presented here are anything less than excellent, but special mention must be made of the life-affirming joyousness of "Don't Be Sad", stuffed to the gills with Chris Wood's fantastic parping sax fills and topped by that fantastic final swelling Hammond chord, and the flipside of the coin "Feelin' Alright?", a song robust enough to withstand being covered by Joe Cocker and John Goodman on "Muppets Tonight", among others.
Sonically this reissue is yet another SV delight, and arrives lovingly wrapped up in heavyweight gatefold glory, even featuring an insert of photos that I don't remember from the CD reissue. Great music, treated with the respect it deserves, if Traffic mean nothing to you this is one of half-a-dozen excellent places to begin.TRAFFIC John Barleycorn Must Die (Island)
Originally intended as Steve Winwood's solo debut, "Mad Shadows", following the 1969 dissolution of both Traffic and his next project, the supergroup Blind Faith, "John Barleycorn Must Die" became the fourth Traffic long player after Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi were brought in as session musicians. And very serendipitous a choice they were too, the result arguably standing as the band's most consistently enjoyable studio album.
"John Barleycorn Must" die stands almost alone in rock's canon in sounding folky and funky at the same time: one minute the trio are encroaching on the directions in music being explored contemporaneously by Miles Davis on his early electric albums (the flowing, freestyle instrumental workout "Glad"), the next they're out Fairporting the Convention with "John Barleycorn", a traditional English song believed to date from the 15th century. Frenetic overdubbing finds the trio handling all the album's instruments between them, swapping roles with an alacrity rivalled only by The Band. There's a freshness and gleeful experimentation to the arrangements that Traffic never really recaptured, from this point on gradually sliding into luxuriously upholstered stasis. It's a genuine surprise to consult the credits and find, for example, that there's not a single note of lead or rhythm guitar on the entirety of the album's first side - you'd never know, because they're never missed. Traffic's fully interlocking whirl of rhythm, melody and timbre would later prove to be a substantial influence on the mature Talk Talk, on whose albums Winwood guested, appropriately enough. But irrespective of where it came from or what it led to, "John Barleycorn Must Die" is an oft-neglected classic from an under-appreciated group.
This 180 gram vinyl reissue is brought to you (or, more realistically, me) through the courtesy of the German arm of Universal, and it's a quality item, sufficiently so to expose the failings of the original master tape, tending towards sounding dull and compressed when the multi-tracking gets heavy. And I'm sure I've encountered gatefold sleeves on earlier pressings of the album, trinketry that's omitted here, in stark, pfennig-pinching contrast to Simply Vinyl's lovingly-tended reproductions of other areas of the Traffic back catalogue. Nevertheless, as the first "John Barleycorn" out of the blocks (at least one other audiophile reissue company has been tantalisingly mooting the prospect for months, if not years) it's certainly worth its not inconsiderable weight in musical and sonic virtue.