The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (1971)

Kronomyth 8.0: SIX, SIX STICKS. The album cover notwithstanding, Traffic didn’t cut any corners on their followup to John Barleycorn. The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys follows the same design: six tracks that wrap psychedelic/rock/folk sounds together into a rich musical landscape. The difference is a saturation in sound versus the dry Barleycorn, possible now that Traffic’s recent tour had left them swelled to a sextet. Jim Capaldi also takes lead vocals on two tracks (“Light Up Or Leave Me Alone,” “Rock & Roll Stew”), and he has a heavier voice than Winwood. Subtract those two tracks, and what remains would in fact sound a lot like Barleycorn’s bits: “Rainmaker,” “Hidden Treasure,” “Many A Mile To Freedom.” The album’s centerpiece is the 12-minute title track, which snakes along like a trail of smoke, then crystallizes in its chorus. While the arrangements on this album are richer, don’t expect a linear increase in complexity over Barleycorn; as Canteen showed, even seven players don’t produce twice the music that three did. The percussion of Reebop Kwaku Baah is an added dimension, but Grech and Gordon don’t anything that a Winwood or Capaldi couldn’t have multitracked. Still, Spark may be the better album, a technicolor trip where Barleycorn felt like a sojourn in sepia tones. Although the title track and Light Up garnered significant FM radio play, it was the funky Grech & Gordon number, “Rock & Roll Stew,” that got the nod as the single. Today, all three tracks are considered classic rock staples, and the album stands as the band’s last great album.

The Songs
A1. Hidden Treasure 4:16
A2. The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys 12:10
A3. Light Up Or Leave Me Alone (Jim Capaldi) 5:00
B1. Rock & Roll Stew (Rick Grech/Jim Gordon) 4:29
B2. Many A Mile To Freedom 7:30
B3. Rainmaker 7:39

CD reissue bonus tracks

  1. Rock & Roll Stew (Part 1) (Grech/Gordon)
  2. Rock & Roll Stew (Part 2) (Grech/Gordon)

All songs written by Steve Winwood/Jim Capaldi unless noted

The Players
Reebop Kwaku Baah, Jim Capaldi, Jim Gordon, Rick Grech, Steve Winwood, Chris Wood. Produced by Steve Winwood and engineered by Brian Humphries. Shortly after the release of Low Spark, Traffic announced that Gordon and Grech were being replaced by David Hood and Roger Hawkins.

The Plastic
Released on elpee on November 1971 in the UK (Island, ILPS 9180), US (Island, SW 9306), Australia (Island, SIL 934 388), Brazil (Island, 6047 224), Canada (Polydor, 2334 026), France (Island, 6396 010) and Germany and Spain (Island, 85 807IT); reached #7 on the US charts (RIAA certified platinum record on March 22, 1996). Regional elpees featured diecut gatefold cover. Re-released on elpee in 1972 in Japan (Island, AML1-1010), in 1973 in Argentina (Island, 5744) and in 1987 in the UK (Island, ILP 9180) and the US (Island, ILPS 9180). Re-released on elpee, CD and cassette in 1986/87 in the US (Island, 90026), in the US (Island, 842 779). Re-released on original mastered elpee and CD on December 1994 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, MFSL-1-209/UDCD-609). Re-released on digitally remastered, expanded CD with two bonus tracks in 2000 in Japan (Island, UICY-9275) and on March 19, 2002 in the US (Island, 548 827). Original album cover design by Tony Wright and photography by Richard Polak.

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