Masterpiece: Traffic

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[Today: Getting it together in the country…]

After their debut album, Mr. Fantasy, Traffic planned a more mainstream album, possibly with fewer drug references and psychedelic influences,” is Wikipedia’s priceless description of the preliminary thinking behind Traffic’s self-titled 1968 album. The group was also dealing with the departure of guitarist Dave Mason, who had written many of the songs on their debut. But after early sessions for this album sputtered, Mason was brought back in to write more songs and help complete the record.

As usual, the group packed off to a cottage deep in the English countryside to write the songs that would become Traffic. Surrounded by fields of green as far as the eye could see, they found a place out of time to make their music, and accidentally invented the template of the rock band “getting it together in the country.” In a 1969 article, Rolling Stone‘s David Dalton described their scene like this: “The afternoon is suspended in time and place. There are no bearings; no roads, no houses, no cars, no telephones poles, no indications of place or direction…”

The songs here reflect the timeless, directionless surroundings in which they were created. Steve Winwood’s keyboards barely anchor a sound that’s part folk and part jazz, while Chris Wood contributes sax and flute as needed throughout. Mason’s tunes, such as ‘You Can All Join In’ and ‘Feelin’ Alright’, are positive personifications of the hippie ethos, while Jim Capaldi and Winwood’s ‘Pearly Queen’ and ‘Forty Thousand Headmen’ have a mystical, ethereal quality. Taken all together, the songs add up to little more than incense, smoke and candles, but the scenes were striking enough to take the album Top 10 UK and Top 20 US.

It’s ironic that such tranquil music came from a band in the throes of ongoing personal upheaval. Mason was kicked out of the group during the tour in support of this album, and just before Winwood split up the band to join Blind Faith and go solo. Winwood would eventually re-form with Wood and Capaldi for the album John Barleycorn Must Die, another timeless slice of the English countryside, and an excellent bookend to the music here.

Listen: You Can All Join In

Listen: Feelin’ Alright

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6 Responses to “Masterpiece: Traffic”

  1. cordell Says:

    winwood always gets too much credit for traffic’s legacy. it’s nice to see dave mason get a little. even if he did wind up in the post-platinum version of fleetwood mac for an album or two.

  2. Pale Writer Says:

    Although credit for Mason gets significantly reduced once you consider his unfortunate hit There’s Only You and Me (And We Just Disagree).

    Bleechhh.

  3. james cabral Says:

    Wasn’t Winwood also on The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys? Was that after John Barleycorn? I love both of those albums.

  4. dkpresents Says:

    Winwood appears on all Traffic albums. Dave Mason left the group for good after this album, and after that they started getting into longer, more jazz-oriented pieces like ‘Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys’. John Barleycorn was released in 1970 and Low Spark… was released in ’71, but those albums were separated by the live Welcome To The Canteen, which is a hidden gem in its own right…

    Thanks for the question Jimmy. The last paragraph was confusing as written, so I cleaned it up to make it clearer who was leaving and who was reforming with whom.

  5. james cabral Says:

    Thanks for reminding me to listen to Traffic again.

  6. Stuck In My Head: Feelin’ Alright « dk presents… Says:

    […] I paid. Their version of Dave Mason’s ‘Feelin’ Alright’ (popularized by Traffic) is worth the price of admission […]

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