John Barleycorn Must Die (1970)

Kronomyth 5.0: TRAFFIC LIVES! In a strange sense, it seems that John Barleycorn had to die for Traffic to live. What began as a Steve Winwood solo album (tentatively titled Mad Shadows) with Jim Capaldi and producer Guy Stevens soon flowered into the new Traffic album with the reunion of Chris Wood and the replacement of Stevens (who took the title to Mott) with Chris Blackwell. While Barleycorn isn’t a complete departure for the band, it is a new chapter, and it’s really on this album that the story of Traffic gets interesting for prog fans. The songs from the Blackwell sessions (“Glad,” “Freedom Rider,” “Empty Pages,” “John Barleycorn”) are the proggiest cuts they’ve committed to vinyl, mixing folk, soul and rock into a flavorful stew that proved far more fortifying than the psychedelic confections of “Shanghai Noodle Factory” or “Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring?” With the sax/flute work of Wood featured prominently and the guitar all but absent, John Barleycorn sounds like a lost Jethro Tull album much of the time (and Tull is tops in these parts). This and their next album represent to me the height of Traffic; Winwood, Capaldi and Wood have never done anything to equal them. In fact, I’ve been confounded over the years by the fact that Steve Winwood albums have failed time and again to come up to the standards of Barleycorn and Low Spark. The Guy Stevens sessions may shed some light into the mystery; “Stranger To Himself,” “Every Mothers Son” and “Sittin’ Here Thinkin’ of My Love” (included on the expanded CD version) are more in line with Winwood/Capaldi songs before and after, suggesting that Chris Wood was the missing ingredient for greatness. I’ve bought Traffic, Winwood and Capaldi albums hoping to discover the magic of Barleycorn again, and haven’t encountered it outside of their next album, so best to look upon the pair as cherishable anomalies and raise a glass in toast to divine happenstance.

The Songs
A1. Glad (Steve Winwood) (6:30)
A2. Freedom Rider (6:02)
A3. Empty Pages (4:45)
B1. Stranger To Himself (4:05)
B2. John Barleycorn (Traditional, arranged by Steve Winwood) (6:20)
B3. Every Mothers Son (7:05)

All songs written by Jim Capaldi/Steve Winwood unless noted.

CD reissue bonus tracks
7. I Just Want To Know
8. Sittin’ Here Thinkin’ of My Love
9. Backstage & Introduction
10. Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring (live)
11. Glad (live)

2001 Expanded CD reissue
1. Glad (Steve Winwood) (6:57)
2. Freedom Rider (5:24)
3. Empty Pages (4:33)
4. I Just Want You To Know (1:30)
5. Stranger To Himself (3:50)
6. John Barleycorn (Traditional, arr. by Steve Winwood) (6:21)
7. Every Mothers Son (7:05)
8. Sittin’ Here Thinkin’ of My Love (3:24)

All songs written by Jim Capaldi/Steve Winwood unless noted.

 

2011 Bonus Disc Tracks
B1. Stranger To Himself (Alternate Mix)
B2. John Barleycorn Must Die (First Version)
B3. Every Mother’s Son (Alternate Mix)
B4. Backstage & Introduction (live)
B5. Medicated Goo (live)
B6. Empty Pages (live)
B7. Forty Thousand Headmen (live)
B8. Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring? (live)
B9. Every Mother’s Son (live)
B10. Glad/Freedom Rider (live)

The Players
Jim Capaldi (drums, percussion, vocals, tambourine), Steve Winwood (organ, piano, vocals, percussion, bass guitar, electric piano, acoustic guitar) and Chris Wood (sax, flute, electric sax, percussion, organ). Produced by Chris Blackwell and Steve Winwood, except tracks 4 and 6 produced by Guy Stevens. Engineered by Brian Humphries and Andrew Johns.

The Plastic
Released on elpee on July 1970 in the UK (Island, ILPS 9116 on pink label), US (United Artists, UAS 5504 on red/black label pictured at right), Australia and New Zealand (Island, SFL/SILPS-933909), France (Island, 6405 007), Germany (Island, 88 018ET), Israel and Norway (Island, 6339 016) and Japan (Island, ILS-40205); reached #5 on the UK charts and #11 on the US charts (RIAA certified gold record). Original elpee featured gatefold cover. Re-released on elpee in the UK (Island, ILPS-9116 on palmtree label & on blue label & on sunset label), US (United Artists, UAS 5504 on yellow cloud label pictured at right), Italy (Island, ORL1-9116), Canada (Island, ISM-9116), Japan (Island, 20S-96), Spain (Island, H25114) and in 1977 in Mexico (Island, H25114), in 1986 in the US (Island, 90058-1), in 1987 in Korea (Island, OLW-489) and in 1988 in the UK (Island, ILPM-9116). Re-released elpees feature gatefold cover too. Re-released on elpee, CD and cassette in the UK and Germany (Island, 842 780-1), on CD in 1991 in Japan (Island, PSCD-1136), on October 1999 in US and Germany (Island, 546 499). Over the years, the CD has also been released in several expanded and digitally premastered editions: an 11-track version with five bonus tracks released in 1999 in the UK and Germany (Island, IMCD-266), in Japan (Island, PHCW-2704), on June 13, 2007 in Japan (Island, UICY-9273) and on super high material CD in 2008 in Japan (Universal, UICY-90772); an 8-track version on February 27, 2001 in the US (Island, 548 541-2); and a 2CD version in 2001 in the UK (Universal, 5332411). The album was designed by Mike Side and features illustrations from the English Folk Dance & Song Society. Photography by Richard Polka.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *