(All Album Reviews by JJ)
The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys was something of a departure for Traffic. It was their first studio album to feature an expanded line-up that resembled their live shows in the period with Ric Grech, Jim Gordon and Rebop Kwaku Baah joining the by-now core three of Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood. Perhaps as a result of this, it feels far 'looser' and more jam-based than any of the band's previous albums. As a result, it may initially sound less instantly appealing than the preceding works, but repeated plays betray an album full of subtlety and depth and ranks as one of their best works.
Compared to the all-guns-blazing jazz/soul groove of "Glad" which opened John Barleycorn Must Die, "Hidden Treasure" is a very mellow opening salvo with delicate flutes and a reposed vocal from Winwood himself. The classic title track continues the relatively unhurried pace, being a lengthy piece that has a jazzy, almost Canterbury-esque feel about it due to that wondrous fuzz-organ sound and a lyric that seems to be warning of the perils of the music industry. It is ironic that this track became one of their most famous as it's easily the least commercial track they'd recorded up to that point.
The soul influence on Winwood comes clearly to the fore on "Many A Mile To Freedom", but my own favourite track here is the brilliant "Rainmaker" which combines a Jethro Tull-style flute riff with an almost Gregorian chant-like vocal refrain from Winwood and Capaldi, ending on a fantastic soul groove with particularly fine work from Capaldi and Wood. This mixing-and-matching of disparate musical styles was the very hub of progressive rock back then, and this brave music has lost none of its potency over the years.
Capaldi's vocal turns are generally more assertive than Winwood's, as the biting "Light Up Or Leave Me Alone" and the funk-laced riffing of "Rock & Roll Stew" show, but the quality is still of the same standard and offer a welcome counterblast to the less direct material on offer elsewhere.
Subsequent albums would perhaps reveal a genuine lethargy but I find this particular album to be a work which one can genuinely return to again and again and find a layer you'd never previously discovered, such is its richness.