Review Summary: Traffic takes on more of a traditional prog rock perspective while staying consistent, and it works.
Many prog rock fans who like their genre so much have most likely heard Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die. This was the beginning of the success that the group gained mainly because it stands as a major accomplishment for the band and is heavily oriented by jazz fusion and progressive rock themes and it also went beyond what the band was originally able to do. This, however, isn’t their only good album. They also would have some hidden treasure in store a year after John Barleycorn. The treasure is their lesser known The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, which is still something of a very high accolade.
Something that immediately gets attention in this album is the mostly traditional progressive music emphasized throughout. Traffic is shifting away from their long traditional jazz fusion music that made them well known in their previous efforts, but exchanged for something just as rewarding. In this album, Traffic is leaning to a King Crimson Lizard-like sound with a lick of Jethro Tull, something that serves as a new advantage. Still, there are remnants of jazz fusion jams that shouldn’t be forgotten. Take for example; The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys and Rainmaker both have excellent sounding improv, taking popular themes from some of their past songs, such as Glad and Freedom Rider.
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys is also benefiting from something quite fresh for the band: giving mainstream rock a bit of a chance. A clear sign is Rock n’ Roll Stew, which has crackly solos, catchy riffs, fun lyrics and vocals, and an upbeat attitude, yet, there is still a sign of something still profound, mature, and well developed. A well-played move by Traffic, as they’re not to mention still sounding like themselves, but they’re also better suited to play with other rock groups such as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Rush.
There is an important element lacking in Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, though. It’s the saxophone. It gave a catchy vibe and a melodic seasoning to memorable songs, such as Freedom Rider and Glad. It appears to be less present and has thinned throughout album (I didn’t even notice any until the 2nd listen). This might cost a few points for the group, since they’re normally associated with jazz.
The best part about this album: not too much else changed from John Barleycorn Must Die over to Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. They still have the old story-type tale songs such as Hidden Treasure, similar to John Barleycorn as well as the abrasive jazz fusion elements that made them special. They continue to explore of the same concepts from their other albums, and still remain consistent. That is something difficult for most rock groups to do.
In good short, Traffic reeled in another success with Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. While they explored a few new boundaries and genres, put more emphasis on traditional prog rock, they still remained relatively the same, not climbing too far out within their capability. This helped them keep most of the good results that John Barleycorn Must Die had. Now, that’s intelligent.