March Through Time: Traffic

In the space of only eight years, Traffic went through a number of lineups and styles. All of it is worthwhile, though in different ways. The early material has nearly nothing in common with the later music, save for the involvement of Steve Winwood. But the group produced some fine music that helped push rock’s boundaries.

  • Mr. Fantasy (1967) – The debut is a Summer of Love classic, and showcased the uneasy musical alliance among Winwood and Dave Mason. Essential.

  • Traffic (1968) – Arguably even better, the band’s second album is a more cohesive artistic statement.

  • Last Exit (1969) – A record company cash-in assembled from unreleased tracks and live recordings. Less than essential but worthwhile for the initiated.

  • John Barleycorn Must Die (1970) – One of the best hard-to-classify albums of all time. Elements of jazz, soul and English folk are woven seamlessly into the rock idiom.

  • The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (1971) – The great work continues. Worthwhile if only for the majestic title track, the entirety of the record is excellent.

  • Welcome to the Canteen (1971) – But then there’s this. Jammy and somewhat lifeless, a live album.

  • Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory (1973) – With its die-cut sleeve, made to look like Low Spark, but sadly not quite as good. Solid but somehow not memorable.

  • On The Road (1973) – Where Canteen was lifeless, this one is just plain dull. The band seems to be going through the motions. Immaculately played by top-notch musicians, it fails to stay in the listener’s mind once it’s over.

  • When the Eagle Flies (1974) – A last breath that’s surprisingly good. Today, nearly a half century after its release, most listeners have never even heard this record. It’s no classic, but for those who’ve enjoyed the ride to this point, it’s well worth hearing.