Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Traffic Gold (Island, 2005)

For a band that put out relatively few albums during their brief career, Traffic has spawned any number of anthologies, with more in the works to be sure. This two CD set takes the place of the excellent Smiling Phases compilation, which has lamentably fallen out of print. Part of the reason the band had such strife during its first few years was the split personality of the music, between the shorter poppier songs of Dave Mason and the longer jazz-influenced jams of Steve Winwood. This compilation reflects that split with the first disc highlighting some of the Mason inspired pop hits like 'You Can All Join In' and 'Feelin' Alright.' Some of the finest music the band achieved was when the two influences meshed together, as 'Dear Mr. Fantasy' has become one of the most memorable songs in 1960's rock and roll, and the 'Glad/Freedom Rider' medley is an equally fine suite-like performance.

After Mason's departure and Winwood's brush with super-stardom in Blind Faith, the re-formed Traffic struck out into looser more jam based music. The end of the first disc and the whole of the second shows this transformation with the incorporation of tunes like the traditional 'John Barleycorn Must Die' arranged for acoustic guitar and flute, and the epic length 'Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys.' There is also included here a lengthy jam-band style version of 'Gimmie Some Lovin' which was a hit for Winwood during his stay with the Spencer Davis Group. This compilation works well as a compromise between a strictly 'greatest hits' set, and a longer b-sides and rarities collection, including both the well know songs and longer album tracks. Fans looking for a taste of the band without collecting the original albums would be wise to consider this set, as it is a well thought out and accessible collection.

Today's Spins:
World Saxophone Quartet Experience
Nick Curran Nitelife Boogie
Rahsaan Roland Kirk We Free Kings

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