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on 1 November 2003
I bought this as an introduction to Traffic some years ago. I knew nothing about the band except for Steve Winwood and 'Hole in my Shoe', so I didn't know what to except. I was keen to hear Winwood's voice in a late 60's setting as I'd really loved his vocals in the Spencer Davis Group.
Well. what a phenomenal discovery. This CD chronicles the band's entire career (excepting the later 'Far from Home') and chooses a consistently excellent selection of tracks.
'Paper Sun', along with 'Hole in my Shoe' are suitably psychedelic (token sitars etc.) but then you move into some quality songwriting.'Smiling Phases' and 'Coloured Rain' remind me of some of Paul Weller's early solo stuff but the tour de force is 'Dear Mr Fantasy' with its top vocal and guitar solo, not too mention the trippy fade out at the end. Marvellous!
From here on in, we are in the prime of Traffic's songwriting skill. 'Feelin' Alright' is beautifully depressive (and covered by Weller on the 'Above the Clouds' CD). 'Pearly Queen' revives some quality guitars, whilst 'Vagabond Virgin' and 'Shanghai Noodle Factory' show Winwood's vocals at their soulful searing best.'Withering Tree' also displays the lead singers vocals at their most powerful ("...into the arms of eternity...." - awesome!).
Then, we move into the early 70's Traffic tracks where both the line up and songs change. To be honest, it's a time in music I'm not that keen on (70's American soft rock - i.e. Steely Dan, Eagles etc.) but thankfully the vocals carry almost all of the songs, well apart from 'Glad' which is a New Orleans instrumental. 'Freedom Rider' has an excellent ending and 'John Barleycorn' is a good old folk song enlivened by some passionate singing.
Then we move into the real 70's 'americanised' sound, including some epic 12 minute opuses. I can take or leave some of the latter tracks but 'Shoot out....' is enjoyable as a soundtrack to a 70's cop drama.
All in all, this CD captures Traffic at their very best; beautiful soul infused vocals, searing Hammond organs (occasionally), and raw guitar solos, If you like a well crafted song, with impassioned vocals, then buy this CD. I guarantee that you will find something to blow you away.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 September 2011
Traffic were always an unusual band. Steve Winwood, the much acclaimed white soul shouter - he may or may not have been the best, but he was certainly the youngest - had made a sideways move to psychedelia from rhythm & blues, and had formed Traffic with three mates from Midlands based bands. Their first single, "Paper Sun" bore out the psychedelic label with prominent sitar in the backing but the follow-up, "Hole in my shoe" was something else entirely. More like a kiddie song than heavy psych (or at least the sort of music we were hearing from bands on the US West Coast), it actually did very well and continues to pop up on oldies programmes. Both written and sung by band member Dave Mason, this single was actually not atypical for Traffic in their early days. Mason's penchant for whimsy was but one of the factors that went into the complex mix that was Traffic.

I've always considered the second and third studio albums as their best and would also put both in the category of rock classics. The second, "Traffic" was the last one with Mason on board and is possibly their best set of songs. The third, "John Barleycorn must die" was the first with "long" numbers. It had only six tracks (that is, the UK version) but four of them were over six minutes in length. The album also had an odd history in that the band had effectively disbanded after "Traffic" and Winwood started this one as a solo album and then the band (minus Mason) reformed around him. Subsequent albums were disrupted by the on-off status of "Traffic" and another Winwood sidestep to Blind Faith, but their content largely followed the direction of "John Barleycorn" with even more emphasis on extended jamming, sometimes with added African percussion.

Disc 1 of this set gives us the initial singles, four tracks from "Dear Mr Fantasy", the first album, five from "Traffic" and three from the (part) live album, "Last Exit". On Disc 2 we get a generous four out of the six tracks including the title track, then it's three from "Low spark of the high-heeled boys", the title track only from "Shoot out at the Fantasy Factory", finishing with two tracks from "When the Eagle flies".

Any set which has "No face, no name, no number", "Dear Mr Fantasy", "Feelin' Alright" (fantastic), "Pearly Queen" (R&B chops on East End fantasy), "(Roamin' thro' the gloamin' with) 40,000 Headmen" (beat that for a title!), "Vagabond Virgin", "Glad", "Freedom Rider", "John Barleycorn must die" (totally different from all the other tracks on the album it came from) and "The low spark of the high-heeled boys" has got to be pretty good hasn't it? I would have liked "Crying to be heard" with that marvellous Chris Wood sound and maybe one or two others, but this`ll do very nicely so I'm feelin' alright indeed!
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on 20 February 2010
This cd has a generous enough coverage from all the band's major releases. Personally, I prefer the early to middle period stuff. Overall though a good introduction to the band's output.
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VINE VOICEon 30 November 2008
To the surprise of many of us, Steve Winwood left the Spencer Davis Group at the height of its success, only to form one of the best groups of the late 60s. Beginning with "Paper Sun", a stunning debut single, this compilation gives a good overview of an excellent group. I strongly recommend it, either for those like me who loved the group first time around or for younger generations who want to find out whether Traffic really were that good. Unlike many of their contemporaries, whose recordings now seem very dated in musical and/or cultural terms, most of Traffic's work still holds up, and this compilation showcases their wide variety of styles.

I was particularly pleased that this compilation includes four tracks - in my view, the best ones - from "John Barleycorn must die". The linked tracks "Glad" and "Freedom Rider" are the sort of music which "brighten up even your darkest night". I was very tempted to see that the latest release of the "John Barleycorn" CD includes an 11 minute live version of "Glad", but if you want to buy only one Traffic album "Smiling Phases" is the best choice and by far the best value for money.
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on 15 February 2008
Mainly just to corroborate the previous reviewer, since there is just the one review of this superb double cd Traffic retrospective. This is definitely THE compilation to go for, rather than the "Best Of Traffic". That particular item dates back to about 1970 and has a running time of only some forty minutes. This far-superior double renders the other compilation practically obsolete.

The first disc of "Smiling Phases" draws in the early non-album singles, big chunks of the first two albums and a few bits of stuff from "Last Exit". The second disc features more than half of the folkier "John Barleycorn Must Die" and half of "Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys". The latter's great title track is included in all 11 minutes 35 seconds of its splendour. The quality dips a little at the end, with one track from "Fantasy Factory" and a couple from "When The Eagle Flies". (Although an ex-girlfriend definitely wouldn't agree with my assessment of "Walking In The Wind", which is her favourite Traffic track in the whole world. Ever.)

All in all, therefore, quite fabulous value-for-money. And another good demonstration of a record company succeeding in putting out a product which is designed to satisfy. (Rather than sneakily holding back on one or two choice tracks.)
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on 20 November 2013
Having cherished Mr Fantasy, couldn't resist this cd. Exceeded what was hope for, i.e. splendid musicianship, brilliant vocals, immaculate timing. Anyone who either loves early or later Stevie and the lads will have little to find fault, with this excellent compilation.
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on 9 May 2013
great old music love it. worth this trip down memory lane. i had forgotten how good this sound and lyric was.
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on 5 January 2016
All the gems and a bit more on top.
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on 22 December 2015
A very good compilation
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on 5 March 2016
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