Steve Winwood Rocks

Steve Winwood 2017

After more than a half century on the international stage, Steve Winwood has not lost a step in the quality of his musicianship and performance. We got a chance to catch him in Philadelphia on April 22, 2017 and thoroughly enjoyed the wide range of classics as performed by Winwood and his uniquely arranged band.

Backing Winwood were two multi-instrumentalists rotating on guitar, bass, organ flute, and saxophone, along with a dedicated drummer and a dedicated percussionist. Winwood himself moved from guitar to mandolin to traditional organ with left hand bass to complement his distinct, soulful lead vocals. This set the stage for unique, jam-band style performances all night.

Winwood opened the show with a beautiful mandolin-led performance of “Back in the High Life Again”, the title song from his tremendously successful 1986 album Back In the High Life. However, this would be the first of only three songs from his solo catalog.

Steve Winwood band 2017

The group quickly shifted to the organ to deliver a bluesy version of the traffic classic, “Pearly Queen.” This would be the first of many tunes by his former band that he would perform this evening with other highlights including “Dear Mr. Fantasy” from Traffic’s 1967 debut album, “Empty Pages” from 1970’s John Barlycorn Must Die and the cool, jazzy title track from The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys. Winwood also played a couple of fine songs from his 1969 supergroup Blind Faith, the hard-rock, riff-fused “Had to Cry Today” and a funked up version of the classic “Can’t Find My Way Home”.

Throughout the night, the five-man group broke into great musical jams, either leading into or during the middle of the highly recognizable tunes and, later in the evening, they were joined by a sixth member on backing vocals. Steve’s daughter Lilly Winwood helped out her Dad on his mid-eighties hit “Higher Love” as well as the mid-sixties classic “Give Me some Lovin'”, which was his breakthrough hit as a teenage vocalist for the Spencer Davis Group. Lilly had alos opened up the show with a fine solo acoustic set.

 

John Barleycorn Must Die
by Traffic

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John Barleycorn Must Die by TrafficTraffic returned from a short hiatus with the 1970 album John Barleycorn Must Die. Reformed as a trio, the group built this album mainly on extended, jazz-infused jams which was musically a bit of a departure from the pop-oriented approach to the music of their first three albums in the late 1960s. The album actually started as a solo project for keyboardist and vocalist Steve Winwood but soon morphed into traffic’s fourth overall album when Winwood enlisted a couple of former bandmates for this project.

Winwood had joined traffic as a teenager in 1967. Led by songwriter and guitarist Dave Mason, the quartet also included drummer Jim Capaldi and woodwinds player Chris Wood.After the release of a few hit singles, Traffic released their debut album Mr. Fantasy late in 1967. The following year brought their eponymous second album and Mason’s classic tune “Feelin’ Alright”. However, Mason departed from the group shortly after, leaving Winwood, Wood, and Capaldi as a trio for the recording of their partial studio / partial live album Last Exit. In early 1969, Winwood left Traffic without explanation, effectively dissolving the band at that time.

Following the initial incarnation of Traffic, Winwood went on to form the super-group Blind Faith, which lasted less than a year and recorded a single album. Under a contract which required another album, Winwood began recording as strictly as solo artist, playing all instruments. However, he soon wanted some familiar players and enlisted Capaldi on drums. This solo project officially morphed into a Traffic reunion when Wood was brought on board.


John Barleycorn Must Die by Traffic
Released: July 10, 1970 (Island)
Produced by: Chris Blackwell, Steve Winwood, & Guy Stevens
Recorded: Island Studios & Olympic Studios, London, February–April 1970
Side One Side Two
Glad
Freedom Rider
Empty Pages
Stranger to Himself
John Barleycorn
Every Mother’s Son
Group Musicians
Steve Winwood – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Percussion
Chris Wood – Saxophone, Flute, Keyboards
Jim Capaldi – Drums, Percussion

Everything gets started with “Glad”, an instrumental which at first sounds like an aptly named celebration with Winwood’s upbeat jazz piano riff. The middle jam section includes a free-form like approach, starting with a saxophone solo by Wood on top of great rhythms by Winwood and Capaldi. The long, slow outro contains a mesmerizing mix of piano, organ, and percussion, and slowly meanders towards a segue into “Freedom Rider”. The album’s first proper song subtly starts with a rocking piano and baritone saxophone phrase but employs a more upbeat and funky approach when the verse breaks in. Winwood may shine brighter on bass than keys, while Wood adds some sweeping flute passages and a potent lead on this track with poetic lyrics by Capaldi.

Side one concludes with the beat-driven rocker “Empty Pages”, which has Wood moving over to Hammond organ and, while Capaldi co-wrote four of the six tracks on this album, he never shines brighter than on this one. His drumming excels from start to finish, while the optimistic lyrics speak of a “clean slate” in a new romantic life. Winwood adds his own highlight with a fine, extended electric piano lead on this track which was the sole single released from John Barleycorn Must Die.

Traffic in 1970While no tracks on the original first side contain any guitars, each of the three songs on side two feature Winwood playing electric and/or acoustic guitar. In fact, the side opener “Stranger to Himself” features both, with an acoustic in the opening and main riff and an electric slightly within the verses and fully during the blistering lead section. The first song written for this album, it is close to being a full Winwood solo effort (he even plays drums), with only some backing vocals provided by Capaldi. “John Barleycorn” is a traditional, anti-whiskey, folk song which is primarily acoustic with slight further arrangements. Through its several verses, instrumentation is built every so subtly. The album concludes with “Every Mother’s Son”, another early track that features only Winwood and Capaldi. A fine droning lead guitar riff drives the slow intro, which most sounds like tunes from the Blind Faith album. The beat completely stops for two measures near the beginning of a Hammond organ lead, reflecting the loose production that is part of the overall charm of this album.

John Barleycorn Must Die peaked at number 5 on the album charts, Traffic’s highest charting album ever in the US, and was only slightly less successful in the UK. Through the early 1970s, the band would expand and contract their lineup (including a short reunion with Mason), but these three core players would remain at the heart of this successful band.

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1970 Page ad

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

 

Comebacks and Reunions

Woodstock '94 stage

Through the long history of rock and roll, there have been impressive second acts. We’ve spoken about such comebacks during some of our late 1980s reviews, most prominently the full re-ascent of the band,  Aerosmith, and the  Traveling Wilburys 1988 Album of the Year. As for reunions, the group Yes made the ultimate attempt with their 1991 album Union, which included all eight past and (then) present members from various eras of the band.

1994 Albums and Tours

The year 1994 was a particularly active year for comebacks and reunions. We’ve touched on some of these in recent weeks with our reviews of The Division Bell by Pink Floyd and American Recordings by Johnny Cash. For Pink Floyd, it was their final album and sparked what would be their last world tour, while for Johnny Cash it was the beginning of the last great phase of his long career. Below is a list of four additional “reunion” albums released during 1994.

Hell Freezes Over by The Eagles

Hell Freezes Over
The Eagles
November 8, 1994 (Geffen)
Produced by Stan Lynch, Elliot Scheiner, Carol Donovan, & Rob Jacobs

As the title suggests, by the early 1990s an Eagles reunion seemed like a very remote possibility. But The Eagles had reformed after a fourteen-year-long break up, with the same lineup which was intact when they disbanded in 1980. Hell Freezes Over, its accompanying video, and the subsequent two-year tour which followed were all very successful. Even though there were only four new tracks on this live release, the album sold over six million copies. Music fans were more than ready for an Eagles reunion in 1994 and they enjoyed the newer arrangements of classic songs while propelling two of the newer tracks to Top 40 hits.

Far From Home by Traffic

Far From Home
Traffic
May 9, 1994 (Virgin)
Produced by Steve Winwood & Jim Capaldi

At the urging of Bob Weir, the living members of Traffic reunited to open for The Grateful Dead during their 1992 summer tour. Two years later, Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi recorded and released a new album under the name “Traffic”, the first such release in 20 years. Although Far From Home had no involvement from the other four members of the group, it reached the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic and sparked an independent tour. This tour included an appearance at Woodstock ’94 (more on that festival below) and provided the content for a 2005 double live album and DVD package called, Last Great Traffic Jam.

Voodoo Lounge by The Rolling Stones

Voodoo Lounge
The Rolling Stones
July 11, 1994 (Virgin)
Produced by Don Was, Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Their 20th studio album, Voodoo Lounge was the first new release by The Rolling Stones in half a decade. With the influence of producer Don Was, this was also mainly a return to the blues, R&B, and country rock which the band had employed during their classic late 1960s/early 1970s recordings. The result was a critical and commercial success as the album debuted at #1 in the UK and reached #2 in the US, spawned several radio hits, and is considered by many as the last great studio effort by the Stones.

No Quarter by Page and Plant

No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded
Page & Plant
November 8, 1994 (Atlantic)
Produced by Jimmy Page & Robert Plant

After nearly a decade and a half of anticipation, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant finally reunited for a 90-minute “UnLedded” MTV project, a stripped-down, “unplugged” concert of Led Zeppelin classics recorded in various locations including Morocco, Wales, and London. With a great response to the television special, the duo decided to release an album called No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded. Along with the re-worked Zeppelin tunes, the album features four new original, Eastern-influenced songs, something the pair desired to compose since the Houses of the Holy sessions more than two decades earlier.

Woodstock ’94

A quarter century after the original, historic Woodstock festival, a new geneation experienced “3 More Days of Peace and Music” in Saugerties, New York at Woodstock ’94 on the weekend of August 12-14. The location of this concert (10 miles from the artist colony of Woodstock, NY) was originally intended for the 1969 festival, but that concert was ultimately moved to a farm in Bethel, New York.

Woodstock 94 muddy crowdThere were some striking similarities to that original concert, starting with the larger than expected crowd which ultimately caused the gates to be wide open and several thousands to enter for free. Ultimately, an estimated 350,000 attended Woodstock ’94, a huge crowd but about 100,000 short of the 1969 show. Another striking similarity between the two festivals was the rainy weather on the second day, which in this case turned much of the entire field had turned into mud.

Although the bulk of the more than 80 performance acts were contemporary performers, there were a respectable amount from the original Woodstock who appeared at Woodstock ’94. These included Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, The Band, John Sebastian, Santana, and Country Joe McDonald. Also, some members of original groups Sweetwater and Jefferson Airplane along with Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, were additional Woodstock alumni to appear at the festival.

This concert was also a special event for three members of Aerosmith who attended the 1969 concert as teenagers and performed as a headliner in the 1994 festival. This was also a showcase for Peter Gabriel, who headlined the last night of the festival and closed Woodstock ’94.

21st Century Reunions

In more recent times, we’ve had Rush make an incredible comeback in the 2000s, various reunions by The Who, and a full reunion of the four core members of Pink Floyd for one single set during the Live 8 concert in 2005. Led Zeppelin also finally came together for a single reunion concert in London on December 10, 2007, with Page and Plant being joined by John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham, son of original drummer John Bonham.

Led Zeppelin 2007 reunion concert

As the years go along, there are increasingly more comebacks by classic rock acts.

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Ric Albano

Blind Faith

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Blind FaithRising from the ashes of two defunct English rock bands, Blind Faith lived a very short life as a “super group” in 1969. Despite being together for less than one year, they manageg to release one eponymous album which captured lightning in a bottle by aptly displaying the immense talents of the members of this quartet which seemed to effortlessly jive together as a group. Beyond the heap of well-deserved critical praise, the album was also very successful commercially. Blind Faith reached the top of the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic and sold more than half a million copies within the first month of its release.

The group began in the summer of 1968, when the band Cream broke up shortly after the release of their album Wheels of Fire. Guitarist Eric Clapton began jamming in his basement with keyboardist Steve Winwood of the group Traffic, who had also taken a hiatus at the time. The two had had previously collaborated on a project called “Powerhouse” in the mid 1960s and while Clapton was somewhat hesitant to start a new group, Winwood was enthusiastic to move forward. He enlisted bassist Ric Grech, formerly of the band Family, and Clapton’s Cream band mate Ginger Baker on drums. When Clapton finally relented, he gave the new group the name “Blind Faith” as a cynical reference to his outlook on the project.

By early 1969, the band entered Olympic Studios in London under the supervision of producer Jimmy Miller, who tried to keep them focused on developing solid material rather than just loose jams (although there was plenty of that). By this time, buzz about this new group began to circulate among fans and the press. In June, the group released a limited edition promo single called “Change of Address”, which immediately sold out despite the fact that the group’s name and band members were omitted from the label. This was an early indicator of the coming success of Blind Faith.


Blind Faith by Blind Faith
Released: August 1969 (Polydor)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Olympic Studios & Morgan Studios, London, February–June 1969
Side One Side Two
Had to Cry Today
Can’t Find My Way Home
Well Alright
Presence of the Lord
Sea of Joy
Do What You Like
Band Musicians
Steve Winwood – Lead Vocals, Piano, Organ
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Ric Grech – Bass, Violin, Vocals
Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion

 

Winwood composed most of the original material on the album, starting with “Had to Cry Today”, which proves to be a good showcase for all the individual talents of the quartet. Starting with a straight-forward hard rock riff and later morphing to a more complex arrangement during the verses and choruses, the song showcases Clapton’s versatility of multiple guitar styles along with Winwood’s moody and fantastic vocal crooning. The song does break down and become a little unfocused in second half, but is otherwise a great album starter. An even finer Winwood composition is “Can’t Find My Way Home”, one of the most indelible moments on this album. This is a soft and melancholy foray into Celtic folk with contemporary lyrics that act as a spiritual ode to young rockers at the hung-over end of the swinging sixties. The ballad gets a bit more intense during the slightly improvised outro, where Clapton’s acoustic picking is joined by Baker’s jazzy drum beats.

The Buddy Holly cover “Well All Right” is a fun rocker, driven mainly by Winwood’s piano and organ throughout, with Clapton playing a much more minor role with just an opening and recurring riff. Much like the upcoming music of the re-formed Traffic of the early seventies, the song dissolves into a funky jam with Grech and Baker providing great rhythms. Clapton’s lone composition, “Presence of the Lord”, is the best song on the album. Almost like a fusion Gospel/rock ballad through the verses and choruses with Winwood playing R&B electric piano, the song enters a fantastic bridge interlude. Here Clapton does some of his best guitar work ever, wailing through a wah-wah laced jam which carries over into the final verse, the finest moment on the album. The lyrics reflect a period of personal turmoil for Clapton and act in concert with the supergroup’s name.

The second side contains only two tracks, starting with  “Sea of Joy”, an underrated classic on this album. Well ahead of its time, the song contains elements of hard rock, folk, and country along with pleasant vocals by Winwood and a violin solo by Grech. Baker’s “Do What You Like” contains a groovy backbeat in the vein of Santana. But at fifteen and a half minutes, the song is ridiculously long and proves to show that Blind Faith falls about one song short of being an absolute classic. While the jams on this song are all respectable, when a long chanting section gets more disorganized and dissonant, it is clear the group is just filling in the time to make this an LP.

The lack of a full catalogue of songs, caused Blind Faith’s few live shows to become partial tributes to Cream and Traffic, which led to Clapton’s quick departure and the group’s demise. Following Blind Faith, Steve Winwood began a solo project which morphed into a re-formed Traffic in 1970, this time with Ric Grech added as the bassist for the band. Baker formed the fusion Ginger Baker’s Air Force before moving to Nigeria, where he lived from 1970 until 1976. Clapton continued his incredible workload, recording both his debut solo album and one with Derek and the Dominos in 1970. While the group parted suddenly, all members have looked back favorably on Blind Faith and the rock world is certainly richer because of it.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.

 

Back In the High Life
by Steve Winwood

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Album of the Year, 1986 Banner

Back In the High Life by Steve Winwood Steve Winwood is an artist who has had two major phases of his professional career. Starting as a teenager with the Spencer Davis Group, he was thrust into the international spotlight with a pair of mega-hits “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m a Man”. This kicked off the first phase of his career playing and fronting several progressive rock bands including Blind Faith and, more prominently, Traffic throughout the late sixties and early seventies.

Then, in the 1980s, Winwood came back with the second phase of his career which was more distinctly pop and blue-eyed soul. He scored some minor hits from the albums Arc of a Diver in 1980 and Talking Back to the Night in 1982. These albums set the stage for the most successful album of his career – 1986’s Back In the High Life. Here, Winwood took some of the styles and methods that he had developed on the previous two albums and brought it to a whole new level.

The album achieves that elusive goal of combining great songs that will stand the test of time while also catering to the commercial appeal of the day. As we mentioned earlier in other reviews, this was no easy task in 1986 when the prevailing pop “sound” was at a nadir. Winwood and co-producer Russ Titelman sacrificed nothing here. The entire album managed to encompass the sounds of the eighties, as it uses its share of synthesizers and modern fonts without sounding dated. This was achieved by counter-balancing the “80’s” sounds with some traditional instruments, styles and Winwood’s distinctive and emotive vocals. There is also excellent songwriting, with most songs co-written by Winwood and Will Jennings and all including some cool lyrics and catchy melodies.

1986 is the third year overall that this new 2011 enterprise called Classic Rock Review has examined, the first two were 1971 and 1981. It may seem like we choose these years at random, there is a method to our madness as we choose to review years with significant anniversaries (that is anniversaries divisible by ‘5’), and it is the 25th anniversary of the music of 1986. With each of these review years, we choose an Album of the Year to review last, and for 1986 that album is Back In the High Life.
 


Back In the High Life by Steve Winwood
Released: July, 1986 (Island)
Produced by: Russ Titelman & Steve Winwood
Recorded: Unique Recording & The Power Station, New York, Netherturkdonic Studio, Gloucestershire, England, Fall 1985-Spring 1986
Side One Side Two
Higher Love
Take It As It Comes
Freedom Overspill
Back In the High Life Again
The Finer Things
Wake Me Up On Judgment Day
Split Decision
My Love’s Leavin’
Primary Musicians
Steve Winwood – Guitars, Keyboards, Synths, Lead Vocals
Phillipe Saisse – Bass
Jimmy Brawlower – Drums & Percussion

 
For a pop-oriented album, Back In the High Life is unique. Each of its eight tracks exceed five minutes in length which is something not seen much outside of prog rock, art rock, or dance tracks. This may be a further testament to the thought and effort put into these compositions. The album also contains some cameo appearances by popular contemporaries, diversely spread throughout.

The album kicks off with the song which would become Winwood’s only #1 hit of his long career, “Higher Love”. This nicely sets the pace for what we’ll expect from the rest of the album – Caribbean rhythms with synth, horns, funky bass, and the distinctive, upper-range vocals. This song is awash in good feelings; “Let me feel that love come over you…”, almost a gospel-like song, and it features soul star Chaka Kahn singing high background harmonies.

On the other end, the album concludes with a couple of interesting songs with very different co-writers. “Split Decision” was co-written by the legendary Joe Walsh and begins with a distinctive, crunchy riff from Walsh and then smoothly works towards a more Winwood-centric riff with organ and reggae beat in the verse and a soul-influenced chorus. The lyric is another take on the influences of good and evil on a person;

“One man puts the fire out, the other lights the fuse…”

“My Love’s Leavin'” was co-written by British eccentric artist Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and contains stark soundscapes which are ethereal and haunting, about facing reality and singing of hope and faith in the face of a loss.

Steve Winwood“Freedom Overspill” contains some rewarding instrumentation with an edgy, whining guitar providing some of the best licks on the album above a masterful arrangement of synths, organ, horns, and rhythm. It is very funky and very eighties, but somehow it is not a caricature. The lyrics paint a picture of a couple up all night hashing out their differences – “Coffee and tears the whole night through/Burning up on midnight oil/And it’s come right back on you”.

“The Finer Things” was another radio hit from the album, with its misty opening, bouncing, Police-like rhythms, and lots of changes throughout. The song rolls along like the river, at some points calm and serene while at others rough and tumbling rapids. This metaphor is explicit in the lyrics;

“So time is a river rolling into nowhere, I will live while I can I will have my ever after…” 

“Wake Me Up On Judgment Day” is a song about wanting to avoid struggle – to get to the good stuff without all of the pitfalls – “Give me life where nothing fails, not a dream in a wishing well”. The song kicks in like a sunrise, the burst of light then explodes from the dawn. Ironically, this song talks of “horns” but actual “horns” are used sparingly with a heavy bass line and much percussion.

But the single element that makes Back In the High Life a truly great album is the title song “Back In the High Life Again”. According to co-writer Jennings, the song was one that Winwood seemed to have little interest in developing when recording began on the album. Until one winter day Winwood returned to his mansion after his divorce to find everything gone except for a mandolin in the corner of the living room. Jennings said, “He went over and picked up the mandolin, and he already had the words in his head, and that’s when he wrote the melody.” The recording of this song for the album includes a lead mandolin along several other ethnic instruments such as acoustic guitar, accordion, bagpipes, and marching drums, with guest James Taylor on backing vocals. This is all as a backdrop for the excellent vocal melody by Winwood, which portrays the feeling of hope and optimism.
 

 
The song was later covered by Warren Zevon, whose bare-bones, emotional delivery has an entirely different mood from Winwood’s original release, mournful and melancholy, almost satirical. This despite the fact that Zevon did not change the key or melody for his recording. Perhaps the truest test for a quality song is when it can have several interpretations and “faces”, depending on its delivery, and “Back In the High Life Again” is truly a great song.

Back In the High Life was the final album Winwood would do for Island Records, a label he had been with for 21 years at the time of the album’s released in July, 1986. Despite this longevity, Winwood was still relatively young at 38 and he would go on to do more interesting things in the subsequent years; signing with Virgin Records and producing a few more hit albums in the late eighties, reuniting the band Traffic in nineties, and most recently working with former Blind Faith band mate Eric Clapton, with whom he toured in 2011.

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1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1986 albums.

 

Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys by Traffic

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The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys by TrafficTraffic reached a level of distinction with the second album of the second incarnation of the band (their fifth album overall). The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys is a diverse and entertaining album that showcases the band at its absolute peak, but also forges a path as peculiar as the album’s title. The album follows-up 1970’s John Barleycorn Must Die and pretty much follows the same formula of a methodical mix of rock and slow fusion jazz, built mainly in the studio. Although it was not a rousing commercial success, The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys was met with a great critical response.

The original phase of the band, led by Dave Mason was more rock and pop oriented than this second more experimental and progressive phase led primarily by Steve Winwood.

The band nearly broke up after Mason left the band in 1968. Winwood moved on to the super-group Blind Faith while the remaining members joined various other projects. Blind Faith disbanded after just one album and Winwood soon went to work on a solo album. He called in his former band mates Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood to help out but their contributions were so significant that it was decided that the project would become a Traffic album. Released in July, 1970, John Barleycorn Must Die was a surprise hit reaching #5 on the Billboard charts, and giving Traffic unexpected new life.
 


Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys by Traffic
Released: November, 1971 (Island/Reprise)
Produced by: Steve Winwood
Recorded: Island Studios, London, September, 1971
Side One Side Two
Hidden Treasure
The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys
Light Up or Leave Me Alone
Rock & Roll Stew
Many a Mile to Freedom
Rainmaker
Group Musicians
Steve Winwood – Guitars, Piano, Organ, Vocals
Jim Capaldi – Percussion, Vocals
Chris Wood – Flute, Saxophone
Ric Grech – Bass, Violin
Jim Gordon – Drums

 
While Traffic operated as a trio for Barleycorn, they became a quintet for the follow-up by adding Ric Grech, who played with Winwood in Blind Faith, on bass and Jim Gordon on drums. This not only gave the band a fuller sound, but also allowed them to branch out towards richer sub-genres, as showcased in the album’s title song.

This eleven and a half minute anthem draws deep influence from Mile Davis’ Bitches Brew, released just a year earlier, with a nice break towards standard rock for the choruses. The title of “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” has been the subject of much debate over the years, including references to many drug, but the lyrics suggest that it most likely is a direct shot at the music industry in general and the fad of glam rock in particular –

“The percentage you’re paying is too high priced while you’re living beyond all your means and the man in the suit has just bought a new car from the profit he’s made on your dreams”

 

 
A commentary on commercialism of the industry, the artists are a means to a financial end, the creative process takes a back seat to profits, it can steal your pride, but it can’t take your spirit.

” But spirit is something that no one destroys.”

Listening to the album as a whole, which contains a mix of jazz, progressive, and classic rock, “Rock & Roll Stew” may have been a more appropriate title song. Along with “Light Up or Leave Me Alone”, it is one of two songs where Capaldi takes over on lead vocals, a rarity on Traffic albums before or since. Both songs are also similar as straight up classic rock with some funk influence.

The rest of the album is at a calmer, more “mellow” pace, as set by the album’s opener, “Hidden Treasure”, with a jazzy piano, steady beat, and strategic flute motifs. “Many a Mile to Freedom” is a progressive rock “ballad” co-written by Winwood and Capaldi’s wife, Anna. It has a beautifully flowing style, accented by some soaring electric guitar, with the flute “floating” dreamily along with the lyrics –

“for together we flow like a river, together we melt like the snow…”

In all, The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys is a bold and creative album using the talents of each band member to their fullest, and showcases Traffic at their absolute peak.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums.