The Bodhisattva Beat
Music and Life

Traffic: John Barleycorn Must Die

John Barleycorn Must Die: 1970

John Barleycorn Must Die: 1970

My first Traffic album was “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.” It became an instant favorite, and I couldn’t imagine this band doing any better. Years later I heard “John Barleycorn Must Die,” and realized that they had indeed topped my old love.

“John Barleycorn Must Die” was not even supposed to be a Traffic album. The band had supposedly broken up even before Steve Winwood joined Eric Clapton in Blind Faith. Steve was actually preparing to record a solo album, and asked his former Traffic Partner Jim Capaldi to help. As things went on they brought in Chris Wood. Well, since the core was there, how could they not call it Traffic?

This was the beginning of Traffic’s second phase so don’t look for the hippy stuff here. Not to say the sentiment isn’t there, but it’s actually an all out music-fest.

“Glad” opens with a serious piano crunch, to let you know they aren’t fooling around. The ensuing instrumental jam backs up that statement.

“Freedom Rider” has great melancholy sax, and some serious flute (the piano isn’t bad either). Once again jamming until a fever pitch is reached, and then just falls down out of sheer exhaustion.

“Empty Pages” is a groovy soul number, with enough organ to keep us proggers happy. The vocals (as you would expect) are stellar. Stevie does like his soul.

The next one is an odd combination of blues, country, and rock. Thus it is aptly titled “Stranger to Himself.”

The title track is one of the best adaptations of classic folk you will ever hear.

“Every Mothers Son” is a drawn out epic, and that is the only problem. It just goes on a bit too long. It doesn’t sound like it was a completely finished concept, so they had to fill it out. The ending also leaves a bit to be desired. It is a fadeout, and a pretty poor one at that. Otherwise, another great tune.

This is a near perfect album. A classic by anyone’s definition, and should be sought out.

Jim Capaldi – drums, percussion, vocals
Steve Winwood – guitar, organ, piano, percussion, vocals
Chris Wood – saxophone, flute, organ, electric saxophone, percussion

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3 Responses to “Traffic: John Barleycorn Must Die”

  1. I agree 100% with your assessment of the album, especially with the last line of your review. This is one of those album that have been ‘love at first hearing’ for me, and one of my all-time favourites. I have heard other versions of “John Barleycorn”, but this one stands head and shoulders over the competition. And then, the double-whammy of “Glad” and “Freedom Rider” is nothing short of stunning. A timeless classic indeed!

    • Yeah, the remaster just doesn’t work as well for me. I don’t know if it’s just because I am used to the original, but “I Just Want to Know” seems out of place, and the bonus tracks (as often are) seem superfluous.

      Hey Raff, send me an email. I don’t think I have your current address.

      • Just sent you my email address on MySpace, since I was not sure I remember your email correctly. Sorry for being so complicated!

        Unlike you, I do like the remaster a lot, and Micky does too. He’s a major Traffic fan, and “Glad” is one of his signature songs – once on PA he said it’s probably the piece of music that describes him best.

        You know, I’m thinking of starting my own blog… I will probably take my reviews away from PA (they are playing a lot of pathetic games with me, and I’m really fed up… Last thing was I found myself kicked out of the Collab Zone in spite of being still listed as an SC), and I would like to post them again in a space of my own.


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