Posts Tagged ‘Steve Winwood

16
Feb
19

Traffic “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”

This is another band that I always mixed up with every other band from the late Sixties and early Seventies whose name was one, everyday word. This is a really enjoyable listening record, though, and it would probably have been in my high school record collection if I was a little older, but in 1971 I was still in my bubblegum period. Who am I fooling, I’m still in my bubblegum period. I believe I wrote about an earlier Traffic record on this site—but I’m not going back to look—maybe later. This version of the band is a six-piece, and they use the variety of instrumentation well (the usual, plus really prominent additional percussion, saxophone, and flute)—while managing to keep a fairly minimal sound, which means no one is horribly overplaying. No one sounds the least bit in a hurry, either, which I quite appreciate at this juncture. There are only six songs on this record, the shortest being over 4 minutes. The longest, which is 12 minutes, is the title track, and it’s such a nice song, it feels half as long, and I could have listened to it twice as long. I have no idea what the hell it means or what it’s about, and after reading something on the internet about where the title comes from and what it refers to, I still have no idea.

The album cover is another die-cut atrocity (pretty much all album covers that aren’t the usual square shape are atrocities)—it’s supposed to look like a cube, but of course wouldn’t even fool or impress even the most stoned among us. If you’ve seen one painting depicting a blue sky with misty clouds above a black and white checkered floor, you’ve seen them all. I probably made one myself in high school art class. Even on back, with the band photo taking up most of it, the dumb black and white checked floor cuts their feet off (just not really thought-out at all). Most likely everyone who has ever rented an efficiency apartment in a college town has had that very black and white checkered floor, and depending on your level of making peace with the past, just this graphic will either depress you or fully nauseate you. The only good thing is that the inner sleeve (in this used version) is still intact and matches the shape of the cover. Also, the band photo on back (should have just been the cover) is pretty amusing, the six guys standing there, either looking at the photographer, or each other, or laughing, or serious—seems like it could have been the first of this style of band photo—though it was probably the ten-thousandth, or so (and of course has been emulated millions of times since). One odd detail, the guy who is either the sax player or is just wearing that sax strap around his neck to attract girls (I’ve been guilty of that myself) is holding, in his left hand, what looks like a cordless phone—you know, an old one, gray plastic, with a long antenna—something that’s beyond dated now, of course, but did it even exist in 1971?—I guess it had to, or maybe it’s something else entirely, but I sure don’t know what.

Side two starts out with the one bummer song on the record, which made me feel like I was watching the local blues rock band at the county fair (not a lot of fond memories there—the fair yes, the bands no). The last song on this side is another extended one, and it starts out with a really inane art rock feel, with the singer repeating “rainmaker, rainmaker” over and over until you expect to see little fairies dancing in your room—and then just when you’re about to throw a shoe at the turntable, they suddenly shift gears and it goes all abstract and dissonant to the point where you think it’s just falling apart—but then settles into a moderately funky groove—it plays out the rest of the song like that, fading out way too soon, actually. I really wish the whole second side would have just been this for 26 minutes. These guys—when they’re not piddling with the wizard bullshit—can play.

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19
May
13

Traffic “Mr. Fantasy”

I’ve been aware of the band Traffic without knowing a thing about them for my entire adult life, so when I let the needle hit the vinyl and the room filled with aural imagery, I thought, wow, there’s probably a few experiences for me left in this fully lived life if I bother to open my mind and somehow come up with the money to pay for it all. Nowhere on this record is a date, but my sources tell me it was released in 1967 and was indeed the band’s first album. This is one of those album covers that open up, and inside there are a lot of pictures – what looks like a misconceived photo session with a jester, and then portraits of the band members. Dave Mason’s is the most pretentious of the four, sitting in a stark room, back to the camera, playing some instrument (he’s credited with sitar, tambura, shakkai, and “meletron” – as well as guitar, vocals, and “bass guitar.” The photos of Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood are classic “hey girls!” dude-in-band pics. The fourth photo is uncredited, but process of elimination tells me it must be Steve Winwood; he’s in a meadow, an axe held high above his head, about to take a vicious swing at something just off camera – one might assume the art director, or jester, or perhaps Dave Mason.

The songwriting credit is spread around and the songs are all over the place, exercising show-off virtuosity while maintaining a whimsicality that pushes the message: “We don’t take ourselves all that seriously, we’re just having a good time! Though actually, you should take us seriously.” False starts, Cheech and Chong joint lighting sounds, wacky lyrics (“My bed is made of candy floss, the house is made of cheese”). Each song is a new adventure. “Dear Mr. Fantasy” steals that riff from the Jimi Hendrix version of “Hey Joe” – though, who knows where these things originated. Maybe Hendrix is Mr. Fantasy! We needn’t assume “Mr. Fantasy” means “drugs.” Though side two does start out with a song called “Dealer” –  a bit of a corny “south of the border” thing. The song “Coloured Rain” starts out sounding just like “Pinball Wizard” (which didn’t come out until a couple years later), but then it goes into a really nice, heavy saxophone, organ, and percussion dominated jam that’s my favorite thing on the album.

You’ve got to wonder about the name of the band, as I generally don’t think of “traffic” as something in any way good or unique. It would be kind of like naming your band “Headache.” Which I’m sure someone has done. I wonder if back in 1967 they thought of traffic differently, like how they would always have the photo of the huge highway “cloverleaf” in the grade school social studies books, like those were the coolest things ever, and not the ecological and aesthetic nightmares they are. Then again, there is drug “trafficking” – not to keep on about the drug references here. Oh, and the final thing – the album cover is a pretty remarkable photograph – and it’s one of those that opens up, so it’s like 24″ x 12″ – with a fire blazing in a brazier on the left side (or back) and the band members on the right, with candles in Chianti bottles. The band members are all looking at – seemingly in awe – in the middle of the photo – a guy sitting cross-legged with an acoustic guitar – and if I’m not mistaken, it’s “Papa” John Phillips! Now why would these guys, Traffic, put John Phillips on their album cover? Hey, this was The Sixties.

 




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