Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Traffic"
Not the band, THE ALBUM!
Then again, it was the band.
The cognoscenti tell you it's all about the first, with "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and those songs other people covered, like "Heaven Is In Your Mind" and "Coloured Rain." But I've always maintained the follow-up was the definitive statement. Then again, "John Barleycorn" was quite a comeback.
Yes, the band broke up and then got back together, when musicians followed their muse, back before recording was free and you could do your side project and play to the disinterested at will.
And despite being seen as Steve Winwood's band, "Traffic"'s breakout star is Dave Mason, who promptly went on to record one of the greatest solo debuts of all time and has spent the rest of his life trying to follow it up.
"Alone Together" is brilliant. But we first realized how great Dave Mason was with Traffic's opening cut, "You Can All Join In."
Listen on headphones, be ready to be jetted back to when stereo effects were all the rage. The lead vocal is entirely in the right channel. Throughout the song. And on headphones you can hear all the asides, the extras, the joy of singing, of playing music. Yup, now it's about perfection, and so much has been lost. "You Can All Join In" is a quintessential album opener, it hooks you. If I get another e-mail from somebody telling me to spend more time with an album, to play it ten times through, I'm gonna tear whatever hair I have left from the top of my head. No, that's not the audience's job. It's your job to make music so enticing people want to, NEED TO, hear it ad infinitum before it even finishes. "You Can All Join In" fits the bill.
The other Dave Mason gem is...the original version of "Feelin' Alright."
Imagine "Feelin' Alright" not being famous, just an album cut, that you discovered and loved, way before Joe Cocker shot it into the stratosphere and "The Wonder Years" and radio play made it an indelible classic rock/baby boomer hit. Oh, we knew it was magic back then, we didn't need to have it recut. It's the way Dave sings... World weary, it's the opposite of the "American Idol" ethos. Instead of overselling it, batting you over the head with it, it's like you've entered Mason's lair and he's telling you the story...
And, of course, you've got Chris Wood's sax... And never underestimate Steve Winwood's piano accents... It's what you don't play that makes what you do play so memorable, so infectious.
The original is so relaxed, so personal you feel like you know the players even if you've never met them.
And let's go for the Mason trifecta, with "Cryin' To Be Heard," my favorite cut on the album for so long. It's the dynamics. Or maybe my whole damn life I've been crying to be heard.
It's the way Mason sings... Once upon a time the musicians made the records for themselves, which made the results so human we all needed to hear them.
Wood and Winwood shine again. Listen to that harpsichord!
And let's now switch the focus to the best song on the album, Winwood's "40,000 Headmen."
You've got to see it live. It's the way the whole band hesitates, just before he looks behind and sees the 40,000 headmen. Whew!
And as great as Mason's vocals are, Winwood positively blows him away here. It's like a journeyman infielder being eclipsed by a superstar.
But wait, there's more!
If you want to know what '68 was truly like, listen to "Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring." Back then, music was primary, it existed outside mainstream culture, it was just for us, laying back on our new beanbag chairs, amidst the smoke and the drink, lazing on a sunny afternoon. "Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring" sounds more like San Francisco than the bands who lived there!
And, of course, there's "No Time To Live." The intro sounds like it was cut in Morocco. And Winwood's vocal is so heartfelt, so real, you're stunned into submission...that's the power of music.
And yes, Capaldi, the drummer, the cowriter, sings "Vagabond Virgin." And "Means To An End" finishes the album with the same upbeat feel as the opener, "You Can All Join In." But the second song on the record is the indelible PEARLY QUEEN!
"I bought a sequined suit from a pearly queen
And she could drink more wine than I'd ever seen
She had some gypsy blood flowing through her feet
And when the time was right she said that I would meet
What is my destiny?
I wasn't sure back then, but it was albums like "Traffic" that steered me in my ultimate direction. You just wanted to get inside them. You had to go to the gig to see the band. You had to go every tour to hear the album cuts, back when there were no singles and every track was worth hearing.