45 Years Ago: Traffic Release Their Self-Titled Second Album
When Traffic released their debut album, ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy,’ in late 1967, they really sounded like no one else at the time. While they weren’t as psychedelic as many of their peers, they mixed blues, jazz, soul and folk with the heady atmosphere of the era.
In early 1968, the band began work on its second LP, which it titled, simple, ‘Traffic.’ But before recording sessions even started, the group faced a bit of turmoil after co-founder Dave Mason left to pursue a solo career. So, Traffic — now a trio consisting of drummer Jim Capaldi, woodwinds player Chris Wood and Steve Winwood on keyboards, guitars and vocals — hit the road.
By the time they returned in May 1968, Mason reconsidered his departure and returned to the group. He arrived with a batch of new songs, including one that would become his signature tune, ‘Feelin’ Alright.’ It’s a perfect representation of Traffic’s sound during this period, with acoustic guitars, harmonies, underscored instrumentation and warm production by Jimmy Miller, who’d go on to work with the Rolling Stones on some of their greatest albums.
Another Mason song, ‘You Can All Join In,’ opens ‘Traffic,’ followed by Winwood’s ‘Pearly Queen.’ His attack on both lead guitar and Hammond organ is blistering at times, making it one of the band’s finest moments. Mason checks in with two more songs — the folksy ‘Don’t Be Sad‘ and the soulful ‘Cryin’ to Be Heard‘ — which juggle a variety of instruments, including a harpsichord that drives the latter’s climax.
‘Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring,’ co-written by Winwood and Capaldi, features just the two of them. They also penned ‘Forty Thousand Headmen,’ the album’s highlight. The haunting song — guided by Wood’s flute — rides a steady, hypnotic groove supplied by the band. They’re also in great form on the album-closing ‘Means to an End.’
Before the album was released later in the year, Mason had once again left the band (he actually appears on only half of ‘Traffic”s cuts). “We became Traffic, and I couldn’t handle it,” he points out in the notes on the album’s reissue. “I wanted to create within that context, but I wanted a life out of it.” Still, ‘Traffic’ was a hit, reaching the Top 10 in the U.K. and the Top 20 in the U.S.