On Second Thought: Traffic – The Best Of Traffic (1969)

How good was Traffic? So good that the band from Birmingham, England warranted this album only two years after getting together.

Founded in 1967, Traffic featured former Spencer Davis Group lead singer and keyboardist Steve Winwood, Dave Mason on vocals, guitar and bass, the late Chris Wood on flute, saxophone and keyboards, and Jim Capaldi on drums and vocals. Creative and ambitious, the band were not only experienced at playing a variety of musical idioms, but their songwriting skills were dynamic as well. Although Traffic obtained the greatest commercial success in their native land, they gained devout fans on the underground circuit throughout the world and were massively influential.

Comprised of 11 tracks, The Best Of Traffic (Island Records) entails material from the band’s first three albums, Mr. Fantasy, Traffic, and Last Exit, which are all essential in their own right for those claiming a thirst for adventurous sounds.

Navigated by a sitar swirling and snaking with psychedelic luster, “Paper Sun” is a masterclass morsel of its genre, the flute-driven “Forty Thousand Headmen” strolls along at a ghostly clip nothing short of mesmerizing, and a sleepy acid-salted blues pitch introduces “Dear Mr. Fantasy” before swelling into a hard-hitting jam ending with a frantic Yardbirds-styled rave up.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Dave Mason joined us for a talk on going his own way, an often-overlooked 1990s-era stint with Fleetwood Mac and his long journey back to the music of Traffic.]

Forging a compatible bond of soul and rock, “Feelin’ Alright,” which was covered by Grand Funk Railroad and became a staple of their concerts, is indeed the ultimate gig anthem with its repetitious chorus and clingy hook, while “Heaven Is In Your Mind” floats and glides atop waves of dreamy shades and textures. An exotic edge electrifies the bluesy jazz motifs of “Shanghai Noodle Factory,” “Coloured Rain” veers towards the psychedelic folk rock side of the field, “Hole In My Shoe” combines bubblegummy pop with dance hall music grooves to decidedly goofy effects, and “Medicated Goo” crinkles, crackles, and crunches to an earthy exposition of riveting rhythms and cool improvisational flourishes.

Traffic met with a number of personnel changes until disbanding in 1974. Steve Winwood departed the group in 1969 and surfaced in Blind Faith, which included Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Ric Grech. The band released one album, then splintered. Steve eventually returned to Traffic, accompanied by Ric Grech, then launched a star-studded solo career. Dave Mason also enjoyed a brief period of mainstream acclaim as a solo artist.

A nice overview of the band’s early work, The Best Of Traffic additionally serves as a fine precursor for further investigation. Ignoring rules and restrictions, the group produced a unique cocktail consisting of blues, jazz, pop, soul, and rock credentials. Progressive arrangements, unusual time shifts, industrious instrumentation, and the desire to simply make music whichever way the wind blew, were traits that made Traffic so interesting and respected.

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 on the national charts with "Stand By Me" - which is ironically one of her favorite songs, especially the version by John Lennon. She has also contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as associate editor of Rock Beat International. Paterson's own publications have included Inside Out, and Twist And Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

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