Ok, now it’s content-discussion time!
Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die was originally intended as a Steve Winwood solo project following his stint in the ill-fated supergroup Blind Faith (whose S/T 1969 album I still love through and through, BTW). Traffic had fallen apart two years prior, but after a few tracks were laid down, Winwood enlisted two of his former bandmates: the aptly named wood- and other-winds maestro Chris Wood and percussionist/drummer Jim Capaldi. The trio’s mastery of meshing jazz, blues, rock, prog, and improv rekindled in full force right out of the box with the instrumental lead-off track “Glad,” featuring Wood’s electric sax and flute lines and Winwood’s signature organ and piano riffs. The vibe flows right on through the rest of what we used to call a perfect album side — “Freedom Rider” (featuring Wood’s elegiac flute) and “Empty Pages” (with Wood’s additional organ work; yes, he’s a major VIP here). And the stark acoustic reading of the centuries-old traditional English folk song “John Barleycorn” properly mirrors the organic burlap feel of the original album cover.
The bonus disc contains three alternate studio mixes/takes and six live cuts culled from two November 1970 dates at the Fillmore East, once intended for a separate release before being supplanted by a 1971 date with Dave Mason briefly back in the fold, which begat Welcome to the Canteen. Two of the Fillmore '70 tracks appeared on the 1999 Barleycorn reissue, but it’s nice to get six muscular readings from those tight, trio-centric gigs before the lineup expanded the following year and took Traffic even further. My greedy ears would, of course, have liked to have gotten even more live tracks from those two Fillmore dates, such as Winwood’s encore performance of the Blind Faith staple “Can’t Find My Way Home,” which was cited by booklet essayist Mark Powell.
Conclusion: Long live John Barleycorn! And that’s it for now. Future Reissue Roundups will cover further offerings from the Universal camp, plus items of note from Columbia Legacy, EMI, Rhino, and Shout! Factory, to name but a few of the top reissue dogs. Happy listening and collecting!
Copyright © 2013 Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.