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John Barleycorn Must Die by Traffic

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Reviewed on 27th February 2011.

 
 

John Barleycorn Must Die

By Traffic

While still only twenty-two, Steve Winwood was already a veteran of the music industry having made his name in the 60's with Spencer Davis, Traffic and super group Blind Faith (with ex-Cream members Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton).

Now Winwood was ready to record a solo album whereby he would play all the instruments. But progress was slow and soon after starting he invited ex-band-mates Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood to become involved. The project became the third Traffic album, minus Dave Mason.

The album starts with the magnificent instrumental "Glad" drenched with fabulous jazz and blues licks from both Winwood's piano and the spectacular saxophone solo by Wood. The next track on the album is "Freedom Rider" which is enjoyable as the opener with Winwood releasing his frustrations and discontent on some of his musical ventures. "Empty Pages" is a simpler tune and is a sound reminder of Winwood's life in the Spencer Davis Group.

Traffic's version of the Traditional English Folk song "John Barleycorn Must Die" is very haunting. A basic acoustic, flute and tambourine set up, supports the vocals that tell the tale of the pain and suffering Barleycorn endures to make whisky and bread.

"Stranger to Himself" and "Every Mothers Son" were the only two songs Winwood had started recording before Capaldi and Wood joined in. "Stranger to Himself" is a simple and uplifting song, while the latter is an epic and a perfect end to a great album.

The re-issue also includes studio out-takes and an official release of the much bootlegged concerts recorded at the Fillmore in November 1970, the standout track being the fifteen minute rendition of "Glad / Freedom Rider".

Considering the album only contains six tracks, excluding the bonus tracks, it displays a wide range of styles and influences. It's a joy to hear Winwood's distinctive voice as well as the way each song showcases both his and the band's talents as musicians and songwriters. A true classic.

 

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