The Studio Albums 1967-1974
Music: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Vinyl reissue: 2 out of 5 stars
Traffic alert! Those likely to be interested in the only vinyl box set of the venerable British folk/pop/rock/world/jazz band’s six studio albums are collectors. Who else will shell out over $150 for material that has already been reissued often on CD and vinyl, just to get a few posters and a “remastered from the original tapes” declaration?
To make matters more problematic, there are no new notes or booklets with unique information, pictures and memorabilia. Worse still is that not all the group’s studio material is even included. That’s because some key Traffic songs were either non-UK album singles (“Paper Sun,” “Hole in My Shoe,” “Smiling Phases,” “You Can All Join In”), or were included as extras on Last Exit (“Shanghai Noodle Factory,” “Medicated Goo”), which was predominantly a live set and therefore MIA here. It would have been perfectly logical to add an extra platter covering this trove of often terrific, classic material.
It’s impossible to argue with music that by any stretch remains some of the most timeless and influential to emerge out of the UK. Songs like “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” “Feelin’ Alright?” and “Pearly Queen” are still being performed by either of the band’s two surviving members, Steve Winwood and Dave Mason, or covered by a bar band near you this weekend. And there is little better than discovering deep tracks like “No Time to Live,” the soulful “Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring” or the lovely “Evening Blue” as you spin the vinyl. At the very least those who may not have heard Steve Winwood as he found his voice both physically and as a wise-beyond-his-years young songwriter, and have somehow not already explored Traffic’s heady combination of folk, jazz, rock, pop and blues released on a handful of greatest hits collections, can bask in the glow of these seminal, if occasionally spotty, albums.
At its best, Traffic mixed genres with grace and style. From Winwood’s jazz piano propelling the powerful instrumental “Glad” to the sitar that wove through the trippy Brit-pop of “Paper Sun,” the low-boil swamp funk of “Rock And Roll Stew,” and the floating psychedelic folk of “No Face, No Name, No Number,” this ever-changing confluence of musicians consistently pushed boundaries. They finally called it quits with ‘74’s When The Eagle Flies, leaving on a note as classy and sophisticated as they entered eight years earlier.
Those with deep pockets may want to take the plunge on this bulky, overpriced, underwhelming cash-generating item. But the rest of us should use this as a reminder to dig back into Traffic’s archives and experience just how moving, unpredictable and groundbreaking pop/rock at its most innovative could be.