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Hidden Masters of the late 60's
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.