Traffic: The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys (1971)

Back in college, there was a band called Yasgur's Farm -- named for the site of the original Woodstock festival -- which would periodically show up to play outdoor parties. They specialized in jammed-out classic rock covers from the late 60s and early 70s.  And I still remember the one time when a bunch of us, pretty much out of gourds, crashed out on the lawn, watching the sun go down, as the band played this epic cover of "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys."  I wasn't a huge Traffic fan, but it was freakin' magnificent.  Every time I listen to the song, it take me back to that afternoon out on the lawn.

30 years later, that song is still the main appeal of this album for me.  It's a perfect little amalgam of jazz, classic rock, and prog, a slow-burning verse with an incredibly infectious bass- and piano-driven chorus, with a stellar spaced-out jam in the middle.  It's the pinnacle of Steve Winwood's long and varied career, one of those true classics I'll always relish hearing just one more time.

The album beyond that, like most of Traffic's albums (of which I'm mostly fond in small doses), is a mixed bag, a few timeless classic rock greats and a few I tend to skip over.  The harder rocking "Light Up Or Leave Me Alone" and bluesy "Rock 'n' Roll Stew," both of which have Jim Capaldi singing lead, are well-worn FM radio favorites; I imagine one's enjoyment of them turns on how much one associates them with classic rock oversaturation over the years. (Personally, I'm fine with them; still, if not for the title track, I'd have to give the nod to 1970's John Barleycorn as the more essential album for its run of "Glad," "Freedom Rider," and the phenomenal "Empty Pages").  

The opening and closing tracks are more folk-oriented, Fairport Convention-like tunes; "Hidden Treasure" is pretty enough, but "Rainmaker," with its hymnal harmonies, is too deep in the British folk vein for my taste (though the jazzy instrumental breaks are great).  And "Many A Mile To Freedom" is a lovely ballad, but not as memorable as the hits (again only really coming alive with the guitar jam that closes out the song).

Here's a pretty epic live version of the title track from '72:
 And a live "Light Up":

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