The psychedelic era of the sixties opened up the doors for bands to express themselves more freely than ever before and as that era faded music industry bosses became more receptive to allowing their artists to continue in this vein.
The stock image of pop or rock bands comprising of two guitars, bass and drums disappeared after a decade of existence as multi instrumentation and studio experimentation became the driving forces of a new era of contemporary music.
Having been born into the psychedelic era, Traffic naturally progressed in this new direction, drawing their influences from R&B, psychedelia, jazz, folk and rock music.
Originally intended to be a solo project for Stevie Winwood, John Barleycorn Must Die grew into the what would become not only the latest Traffic album but also the one that reunited the band which had all but gone their own ways a couple of years before.
Their separate influences beyond Traffic during the break are put to great effect on this album creating what was considered to be a bit of a masterpiece back in 1970.
The opening track Glad, kind of shows to what extent artists were being allowed their freedom, a meandering six and a half minute over indulgent instrumental perfectly fitting with the era in which it was recorded.
It is exactly this however that made this album so successful for Traffic back when it was released, earning plaudits from music writers and critics and becoming a favourite of a generation of musos and stoners across the world.
The title track, John Barleycorn Must Die is a traditional old English folk song, given an electric baroque arrangement which sits between the driving rock of Stranger To Himself and the soulful final track Every Mother’s Son provides a wonderful contrast of the musical influences around the band at this time.
John Barleycorn Must Die is of course from a time when it was normal to sit and listen to an album in its entirety and that is exactly how it works with this collection of songs.
There are no stand out tracks, it is an old school album and deserves to be listened to in one sitting as it was intended, when it must surely be appreciated as a stunning piece of work. Even now.
The digitally remastered deluxe edition of John Barleycorn Must Die includes the original album on disc one with a collection of previously unreleased tracks on disc two. Extras including live recordings from Fillmore East made in 1970 for a live album that never was released.
John Barleycorn Must Die Deluxe edition tracklisting:
DISC ONE – THE ORIGINAL ALBUM REMASTERED
01: Glad ( 6:59 )
02: Freedom Rider ( 5:30 )
03: Empty Pages ( 4:34 )
04: Stranger To Himself ( 3:57 )
05: John Barleycorn Must Die ( 6:27 )
06: Every Mother’s Son ( 7:08 )
DISC TWO – ALTERNATE TAKES & LIVE – Previously Unreleased
01: Stranger To Himself – Alternate mix ( 4:10 )
02: John Barleycorn Must Die – First version ( 5:10 )
03: Every Mother’s Son – Alternate mix ( 7:01 )
04: Back Stage and Introduction ( 1:44 ) *
05: Medicated Goo – Live ( 4:38 ) *
06: Empty Pages – Live ( 5:03 ) *
07: Forty Thousand Headmen – Live ( 4:50 ) *
08: Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring ? – Live ( 5:21 ) *
09: Every Mother’s Son – Live ( 7:08 ) *
10: Glad / Freedom Rider – Live ( 14:40 ) *
*Recorded Live at The Fillmore East – 18th and 19th November 1970
TRAFFIC re-release John Barleycorn Must Die Deluxe Edition through UMC / Island Records – February 28th 2011