The Best of Traffic
[20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection]
First Appeared at The Music Box, July 2003, Volume 10, #7
Written by John Metzger
Trying to find the perfect career retrospective for Traffic can be a difficult task. First came 1969ís The Best of Traffic, which encapsulated the bandís first three albums but was issued long before the sessions that yielded the classic John Barleycorn Must Die and The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys. In 1975, two new compilations were released (Heavy Traffic and More Heavy Traffic), but these also short-changed two of the bandís finest outings. Smiling Phases, which was released in 1991, remains the best compilation of the groupís material, but at two discs and 26 tracks, itís a bit bloated for some tastes ó not to mention, tracking down a copy can be a challenge in itself. Next came 2000ís Feeliní Alright: The Very Best of Traffic, which trimmed things down to a single CD, but still left off several nuggets ó such as Medicated Goo, Light Up or Leave Me Alone, and Rainmaker.
The latest attempt at capturing the essence of Traffic is the recently released The Best of Traffic: 20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection. This ten-song set isnít perfect by any means, but it does succeed in offering a rather concise portrait of a band that went from a psychedelic pop act to jazzy jam band in the matter of just a few years. Yes, it would have been nice if Medicated Goo had been included. Likewise, a few more songs ó most notably Glad and Freedom Rider ó from the aforementioned classics would have added some balance to the collection. That said, The Best of Traffic demonstrates how smoothly and seamlessly this transition took place, proving without a doubt that even if the 13-month dissolution between January 1969 and February 1970 hadnít happened, Traffic would have wound its way though the exact same progression. The blues and jazz inflections of the band blossomed fully on Empty Pages and The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, but in actuality, the mutation took root far earlier, turning up within the blissed-out psychedelia of Heaven Is in Your Mind and Dear Mr. Fantasy as well as the Buffalo Springfield knock-off You Can All Join In, the bouncy Bowie-like groove of Feeliní Alright, and the John Lee Hooker-meets-Cream thunder of Pearly Queen. Indeed, The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys and John Barleycorn Must Die stand as Trafficís crowning achievements, but these early tracks have held up quite well against the test of time.
The Best of Traffic: 20th Century Masters is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box