Wilson and Alroy's Record Reviews We listen to the lousy records so you won't have to.

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Reviewed on this page:
Mr. Fantasy - Traffic - Last Exit - Ginger Baker's Air Force - John Barleycorn Must Die - The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys - Dave Mason & Cass Elliot - Welcome To The Canteen - Headkeeper - Shootout At The Fantasy Factory - It's Like You Never Left - On The Road - Dave Mason - Split Coconut - Certified Live - Steve Winwood - Mariposa de Oro - Old Crest On A New Wave - Arc Of A Diver - Some Assembly Required - Two Hearts - Some Come Running - Roll With It - Refugees Of The Heart - Far From Home - Junction Seven

Sometimes remembered as a self-indulgent 70s prog-rock act, Traffic at least started out with a distinctive 60s sound that owed much more to the Beatles, R & B, and folk music than to jazz, classical music, or navel-gazing psychedelic silliness a la Pink Floyd and Yes. The key elements were Steve Winwood's wailing, bluesy vocals, Jim Capaldi's gritty songwriting and drumming, and Chris Wood's sinuous flute and sax playing, which made them instantly recognizable. Thin on songwriting talent and lacking a genuine lead guitarist once co-founder Dave Mason quit, they still had a rock-solid sense of pop showmanship that carried them through a half-dozen enjoyable LP's. Ironically, Winwood's best effort may have been his collaboration with Eric Clapton on Blind Faith. That doesn't diminish the fact that Traffic was not only popular, but an influence on its British rock peers, ranging from Elton John all the way to King Crimson.

I've got a bunch of solo albums by ex-Traffic members, especially by Mason and Winwood, and I've listed the ones I know about just to give a rough impression of their large catalogue. Over the years Winwood and Capaldi have frequently guested on each other's records, with Mason off on his own and Wood having been essentially retired for many years prior to his death in the early 80s. The most bizarre twist of all hasn't been the moderately successful recent Traffic (= Winwood/Capaldi) reunion, or the death of Chris Wood, but Dave Mason's recuitment into the reincarnated, Stevie Nicks/Lindsey Buckingham-less Fleetwood Mac. Will wonders never cease?

There are official Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi web sites, as well as an unofficial site called "Smiling Phases." There's also a good Dave Mason site with lots of biographical information. (JA)

Lineup: Jim Capaldi (drums, percussion, some vocals); Dave Mason (guitar, vocals, some bass, sitar, etc.); Steve Winwood (lead vocals, keyboards, some guitar, bass); Chris Wood (flute, sax, some keyboards). Mason quit, 1969. Jim Gordon (drums), Rick Grech (bass) and Rebop Kwaku Baah (percussion) added, 1971. Gordon and Grech replaced by Roger Hawkins (drums) and David Hood (bass), 1972. Rebop and Hawkins dropped, Hood replaced by Rosco Gee, 1974.

Mr. Fantasy (1967)
The still teen-age Steve Winwood was already a practiced lead vocalist who could handle multiple instruments, having fronted the moderately successful Spencer Davis Group. However, Traffic at first was a full-blown collaboration between Winwood, Capaldi, and the drug-dazed Mason. Mason's tracks are so full of starry-eyed Eastern mysticism and psychedelic free association that they're utterly unbearable ("Utterly Simple"). But the rest of the band stays closer to its source - the Beatles - by keeping their collective tongue firmly in its collective cheek. The result is a set of stirring anthems ("Coloured Rain"; title track), trippy ballads ("No Face, No Name, and No Number"), and high-energy rockers ("Berkshire Poppies"; "Dealer"). With studio gimmickry and odd instrumentation everywhere, this is one of the best Sgt. Pepper's-influenced albums of the 60s. (JA)

Traffic (1968)
With this record, Traffic started drifting in the jazz/folk direction that later ruined it. The studio trickery is gone, but the songwriting steps up to fill the gap, and a loose, partying atmosphere draws the listener in. Mason comes down long enough to produce some of his best tunes ever, like the catchy, oddly introspective sing-along anthems "Feelin' Alright" and "Cryin' To Be Heard"; and the Winwood-Capaldi axis is also in good form, contributing some soulful R & B numbers dressed up with impenetrably bizarre lyrics (the picaresque "Pearly Queen"; the unforgettable "40,000 Headmen"). Despite some dull moments that border on bathos ("No Time to Live"), it's a solid record in the great 1960s British pop tradition. (JA)

Last Exit (1969)
With Mason having quit the band for good, Traffic continued for a while and then temporarily dissolved itself. The record company was left to put out this patchwork album. It includes two fantastic singles in the style of earlier hits ("Medicated Goo"; "Shanghai Noodle Factory") and some additional, more run-of-the mill studio tracks (the instrumental "Something's Got Ahold Of My Toe"; the psychedlic waltz "Withering Tree"); but the second side is padded out with two endless blues-based jams that reveal the limitations of Traffic's Mason-less three-man lineup ("Blind Man"). (JA)

Ginger Baker's Air Force (1970)
A double-album-on-one-CD live performance that features a weird mix of Traffic minus Capaldi (Winwood, Wood), Blind Faith minus Clapton (Baker, Grech), and a million guests - a horn section, female backup singer, percussionist, and guitarist (Denny Laine, who later spent ten years as Paul McCartney's Wings alter-ego). It's a catastrophe, with Baker pushing his jam-like-crazy philosophy on the flawed assumption that this is what made Cream so successful. The only short track ("Man Of Constant Sorrow") is a middling Denny Laine number; most of the rest is pseudo-jazzy free-form junk that just highlights Clapton's absence (Cream's "Toad"; Blind Faith's "Do What You Like"; etc.) and makes you wish that Winwood would step in and take control (he doesn't). (JA)

Alone Together (Mason: 1970)
This was the first of quite a few Dave Mason solo records. Guests include Capaldi, Jim Gordon, Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge, and Delaney and Bonnie - all of them except Capaldi appeared on Eric Clapton's debut solo album, which seems to have been recorded concurrently. The single was "Only You Know And I Know." (JA)

John Barleycorn Must Die (1970)
After Blind Faith blew up in his face, Winwood retreated to the studio and began work on what started out as a solo record. Capaldi and Wood did perform on most of the tracks, but it's Winwood's show all the way - he handles vocals, piano, organ, bass, and assorted guitars. "Traffic" had now ditched its giddy psychedelic R & B-based pop sound in favor of a quieter, folk/jazz based approach, centering on lengthy instrumentals ("Glad"). This time, at least, it all came together. Even the more standard pop songs have a pleasantly jazzy feel ("Empty Pages"), and the memorable title track is a haunting, acoustic English folk song. Anyone who is intrigued by Traffic's success in the 70s should start here. (JA)

Dave Mason & Cass Elliot (Mason/Elliot: 1971)
This one wasn't a hit, and maybe it's because the combination is so weird - Cass Elliot was one of the Mamas and the Papas. And I'm not sure what Mason thought Elliot would contribute; he took responsibility for most of the songwriting, singing, and musical arrangements, and the backup band worked with his usual 70s mid-tempo rock formula. Unfortunately, that means it's monotonous. Practically every song blends Russ Kunkel's snappy drums and congas, Paul Harris' sparkling piano, Mason's soothing acoustic guitar, and the duo's smooth-as-silk harmonies. Cass seems to have no personality at all: she always sounds a little flat, a little too quiet, and a little drugged out, and her big string-slathered spotlight is totally dreary ("Here We Go Again"). On the plus side, Mason fabricates more good riffs than usual ("Walk To The Point," with handclaps and intricate harmonies; the quaintly philosophical, Steve Stills-like "To Be Free" and "Sit And Wonder"). Almost all the material here is pleasant, but it's so relentlessly bland that it's expendable. (JA)

Welcome To The Canteen (1971)
Unable to perform effectively in concert as a three-piece, Traffic added a bassist and a drummer (Rick Grech and Jim Gordon, both associates of Eric Clapton) as well as a percussionist (Rebop). This live record also features Dave Mason, who was back with the band for just a few guest appearances. It mostly draws on the earlier records, with nothing at all from Barleycorn and Low Spark. Mason contributes two decent tracks from his debut solo album (the nicely creepy "Sad And Deep As You Go"; "Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave"), and his guitar technique has improved - it's too bad he didn't go in to the studio with the band. Despite some tight arrangements ("Medicated Goo"), they do lose all self control on "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and the shuffling, percussion-crazed Spencer Davis Group hit "Gimme Some Lovin'" (Winwood's springboard to fame in the first place). But the groove they get trapped in is often a lot of fun. (JA)

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (1971)
What a disappointment - somehow the recent lineup changes and chart successes had sucked out all of Winwood and Capaldi's originality and knack for writing catchy tunes. The lengthy title track is a well-known AOR hit, but after repeated listenings its jazzy soft-rock sound grows tiresome. Although Capaldi ("Light Up Or Leave Me Alone") and Grech and Gordon ("Rock 'n' Roll Stew") contribute some thinly entertaining rockers, and Winwood gets in a longish ballad with yet more pretty jazz noodling ("Rainmaker"), there's nothing substantial here. (JA)

Oh How We Danced (Capaldi: 1972)
Paul Kossoff, ex-Free guitarist, was heavily involved, and most tracks feature Muscle Shoals veterans Hood, Hawkins, Barry Beckett (piano) and Jimmy Johnson (guitar). The full line-up of Traffic appears on "Open Your Heart" and assorted band members (including Mason) are present on almost every track. Co-produced by Capaldi and Chris Blackwell. The title track is an old Al Jolson tune. (JA)

Dave Mason Is Alive (Mason: 1972)
Both of Mason's Canteen contributions surface here - "Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave" and "Sad And Deep As You." There's also an obligatory version of "Feelin' Alright." (JA)

Headkeeper (Mason: 1972)
This is basically a rip-off, released by Mason's record company without his permission and presenting very little original material. Side 1 includes some not-quite-finished songs like the clever, sparkling acoustic number "Here We Go Again," but it's pretty good, and it helps that Lonnie Turner joins the band on bass and Spencer Davis, Rita Coolidge, and Graham Nash all make guest appearances. The title track was done better on It's Like You Never Left, but it's a great tune in any guise; the re-recorded "To Be Free" has a rousing early 70s big chorus R & B fade; and "In My Mind" adds a pretty slide guitar riff to Mason's harmonized pop song formula. But Side 2 is live, and it sounds like a spontaneously recorded club date. Even though the players sound practiced there are still tons of screwups, and they have a light-weight bar band sound that robs classic hits ("Pearly Queen"; "Feelin' Alright") of even the slightest grit. At some point Mason released a solo version of the latter song as a single, but he kept re-recording it, and I doubt it's this one. (JA)

Shootout At The Fantasy Factory (1973)
Most critics hate this, poking fun at the song title "Sometimes I Feel So Uninspired"; I won't stoop to that, but it does have a listless, rambling jazz-pop sound that defies its own professionalized production. There are only five tracks, and each of them goes on and on - the forgettable "Roll Right Stones" breaks 13 minutes. Capaldi and Winwood are firmly in control here, producing and writing all the tunes save Wood's "Tragic Magic." But all they can think to do is ride the band's shuffling groove as it wanders through over-familiar territory on track after track - after a while, you can't even remember what song you're listening to. The borrowed Muscle Shoals rhythm section of Hood and Hawkins cut There Goes Rhymin' Simon with Paul Simon later the same year. (JA)

It's Like You Never Left (Mason: 1973)
Mason's first serious studio effort in three years, and well worth the wait. There's a new, much better version here of the title track from Headkeeper. And then there's all the guests - George Harrison (unmistakable slide guitar on "If You've Got Love"), Graham Nash (several backing vocals), and Stevie Wonder (ear-catching harmonica all the way through the soothing, melodic "The Lonely One"), plus studio regulars like Lonnie Turner, Carl Radle, Greg Reeves (a smoking bass line on the clever title track), Rocky, and Jim Keltner. The high-powered help translates into really classy early 70s rock production, and the record is not only enjoyable from start to finish, but a heck of a lot better than whatever Traffic was up to at this point. Mason mostly overcame his vocal limitations this time around, even harmonizing with himself quite smoothly ("Every Woman"), and his guitar playing had continued to improve. Incredibly, the album was a flop anyway. (JA)

On The Road (1973)
A sorry live album that shows the band in slow-motion free fall, with just six mostly lifeless tracks spread thinly over an entire double LP. Two of them are monstrous: a meandering, exhausted-sounding "Glad/Freedom Rider" - at least "Freedom Rider" follows the studio version closely - and a 17-minute "Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys." The other, relatively short tracks are still uniformly excessive (Wood's pleasant but slight instrumental "Tragic Magic," which wastes a heavy hook). Winwood's vocals are often weak, and Wood's sax playing isn't strong enough to carry his lengthy spotlights. But there is some energy in here somewhere. Winwood gets in some long, impassioned guitar solos on the staid pop song "Sometimes I Feel So Uninspired"; the plodding rocker "Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory" has a sincerely bad attitude; and Capaldi's wild-eyed vocal on the sloppy "Light Up Or Leave Me Alone" is welcome. Sparse praise for a record of this length. Produced by Winwood and Chris Blackwell. The band is Winwood, Capaldi, and Wood; Hood and Hawkins: and Barry Beckett, who ably recreates the keyboard parts that Winwood double-tracked on the studio albums. (JA)

When The Eagle Flies (1974)
The only original Traffic record I don't have, and I've heard mixed things about it. Ironically, it sold just as strongly as the preceding records back to Barleycorn, meaning far better than the Dave Mason-era records. The single was "Walking In The Wind"; the obligatory 11-minute jam is "Dream Gerrard." Rebop, Hood, and Hawkins were all gone at this point, replaced by bassist Rosco Gee. (JA)

Whale Meat Again (Capaldi: 1974)
What an awful pun... This one came out at virtually the same time as When The Eagle Flies. (JA)

Dave Mason (Mason: 1974)
Mike Finnigan of Hendrix/Stills fame was in Mason's band at this point, so it's doubly ironic that Mason breaks out the wah-wah pedal for a respectful, but uninspired cover of "All Along The Watchtower" - Mason had played rhythm guitar on Hendrix's more famous version of the song. Just to prove how out of ideas he really is, his other big-deal cover tune is a bluesy Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me," also done by both Rod Stewart and John Lennon; and he recycles "Every Woman," which appeared on his last album as a nice acoustic number but gets his standard over-slick production this time. And by now his lyrics had reached rock-bottom, with amazingly predictable rhymes and trite themes ("Relation Ships," which sounds like a broken Steve Winwood record). It's not all bad; Mason overuses wah-wah and slide guitar, but at least it's entertaining, and the new tunes are always pleasant if never memorable (the Harrison-esque "Show Me Some Affection"; "Harmony & Melody"). If you're in the mood for a mellow, mid-tempo, mid-70s rock record, you can't go wrong. The rest of the band is session bass player Bob Glaub, Jim Krueger (guitar) and Rick Jaeger (drums); the no-name guests include a horn section ("Get Ahold On Love"), flautist, and pedal steel player ("Every Woman"). Although the album broke the Top 40 and went gold, none of the singles were hits. (JA)

Short Cut Draw Blood (Capaldi: 1975)
About half the record features the Muscle Shoals band from his earlier records, augmented by guitarist Pete Carr. Traffic members Winwood, Wood, Gee, and Rebop show up in several places, and Chris Spedding is the main guitarist throughout. Capaldi wrote everything except two cover tunes. Coproduced by Capaldi, Blackwell, and Steve Smith. (JA)

Split Coconut (Mason: 1975)
It's a shame that critics are so quick to write Mason off as a vapid 70s pop crooner - once in a while he does pull his act together. On this forgotten album he once again chases the latest musical fads (e.g., the chorus guitar effect on "Long Lost Friend"), but also injects his crafted compositions with verve and sincerity. His wah-wah'ed guitar solos are crisper than ever, the rhythm section is solid, and there's even a little funk (the energetic title track), slide guitar (the Harrison-style "You Can Lose It"), and synth silliness (the shrill "Sweet Music"). There are some problems like the relentlessly smooth and restrained production standards, Mason's recycled melodies and almost strictly pentatonic soloing, and a ridiculously Caribbean-flavored cover of Buddy Holly's "Crying, Waiting & Hoping." But fans should definitely try to track this one down. The LP broke the Top 40, but again, none of the singles did well. There's hardly any star power here, just Mason's regular touring band, but Graham Nash is back and sings facelessly with David Crosby on about half the tracks, and the Manhattan Transfer sings on two others. The band is Krueger, Jaeger, and Gerald Johnson (bass), with Mark Jordan and Jay Winding splitting keyboard duties. Co-produced by Bruce Botnick. (JA)

Certified Live (Mason: 1976)
A live double album with a predictable set list. There's a bunch of covers, including "All Along The Watchtower," "Bring It On Home To Me," an acoustic, ultra-sincere "Take It To The Limit," and even a burbly, crowd-pleasing "Gimme Some Lovin'." Then there are the usual Traffic and early 70s solo numbers ("Pearly Queen," a funk arrangement of "Feelin' Alright," "Give Me A Reason Why," a quiet "Sad And Deep As You," "Every Woman"). As you'd expect, the arrangements alternate between upbeat rock, with a touch of funk, and acoustic balladry, smoothed over with three-part harmonies. The arrangements mostly stay on track (notably excepting a twelve-minute "Look At You, Look At Me"), the band's playing is really sharp, the running time is generous on one CD, and Mason's guitar solos are more biting live than in the studio ("World In Changes"). But it's not the kind of thing that might convert any new fans. The band is Krueger, Johnson, Jaeger, and Finnegan, who gets an overwrought solo vocal on the generic, talkbox-augmented blues "Goin' Down Slow." (JA)

Let It Flow (Mason: 1977)
Had Mason's biggest hit, "We Just Disagree" - which he didn't even write. Guests include Steve Stills and Yvonne Elliman on one track. (DBW)

Steve Winwood (Winwood: 1977)
After three years out of the limelight, Winwood attempted to jump right back in, trying in some places to modernize his sound. The best shot is the smoothly running, funk-disco social protest song "Time Is Running Out," which was the single here; it featured several guests - Rebop, Jim Capaldi, and Winwood's wife Nicole. But for the most part, Steve just recycles Traffic's early 70s schtick, with lots of dramatic, plodding, and forgettable thought pieces powered by stately organ parts. One track apparently was recorded with Junior Marvin's band ("Vacant Chair"). Elsewhere it's mostly just Winwood and the borrowed George Harrison/David Bowie/whoever rhythm section of Andy Newmark (drums) and Willie Weeks (bass) - but Winwood plays everything on the eight minute "Midland Maniac." Compared to Traffic's last few records, this was a flop; it's kind of surprising because Capaldi collaborated on most of the songwriting. (JA)

The Contender (Capaldi: 1978)
This appears to be one of the few Capaldi records that didn't feature a Steve Winwood guest appearance. (JA)

Daughter Of The Night (Capaldi: 1978)

Mariposa de Oro (Mason: 1978)
By now Mason had turned into an L.A. soft rock singer par exellence: nothing in this collection of methodically crafted pop songs hints at his roots as a 60s rocker. That said, it's mostly quite enjoyable. Mason worked closely with singer/songwriter Jerry Williams, who wrote two tunes and has co-writes on three others. Williams is a total schmaltzmeister, but Mason makes good use of him in the same way that Steve Stills did with Donnie Dacus; Williams sings mellow tenor backing vocals while Mason's usual, slightly gritty vocals and guitar solos add a sheen of rock respectability. Although there are way too many dull orchestrated numbers, some of them are entertaining ("Warm Desire"; Williams' stately "No Doubt About It"). Alas, the closest they get to real rock is a light funk-blues romp ("Share Your Love"), and everything goes to hell on the single, a nauseating cover of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," complete with a muzaky orchestral arrangement - it barely broke the Top 40. The album is always deliberately tuneful, but it compares poorly to Mason's earlier, more artistically authentic efforts. The band is Johnson, Jaeger, percussionist Ron Greene, and Finnigan alternating with Mark Stein on keyboards; guests include Krueger, who gets in a pleasant country-pop tune ("The Words"); Jeff Porcaro; Bob Glaub; Ernie Watts; and most prominently Stills (an a capella version of the gospely "Warm And Tender Love," an old hit for Percy Sledge). Produced by Mason and Ron Nevison; the title means "golden butterfly." (JA)

Electric Nights (Capaldi: 1979)
Pretty much a no-name band on this one, although Gee is usually the bassist, and Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke guests on a couple tunes. Produced by Jimmy Miller. (JA)

The Sweet Smell Of Success (Capaldi: 1980)

Old Crest On A New Wave (Mason: 1980)
Mason's last album for another seven years, and you can see red flags all over the thing: there's low-budget production, with no big complicated arrangements and few guests; there's hardly any stylistic experimentation, other than a few New Wave affectations (the rocker "Paralyzed") and a blaring Moog synth part on "Get It Right"; and Mason's songwriting muse seems to have been on vacation, with keyboardist Mark Stein contributing several pedestrian tunes and two songs being covers. But somehow, it ends up being one of Mason's better albums. Probably the high point is Krueger's swinging, ecstatic "Save Me," with Michael Jackson joining in on the complex harmonies - Bob Glaub puts in the funk bass performance of his career. And a lot of the material has the same up-tempo, feel-good vibe, with plenty of catchy riffs and biting lead guitar lines (yet more wah wah mania on "Talk To Me"). There's no reason to remember smooth soft rock numbers like "I'm Missing You," the formulaic title track, or the diaphanous "Gotta Be On My Way," but the record might get your foot tapping anyway. Co-produced by Mason and Joe Wissert, and featuring the same band as usual: Stein, Krueger, Glaub, Jaeger, and percussionist Ray Revis with Finnigan guesting on a few tracks. (JA)

Arc Of A Diver (Winwood: 1980)
This was Winwood's comeback record after a few years of semi-retirement. It was a major commercial and critical success, and included the Top Ten hit "While You See A Chance" and the ethereal follow-up single "Spanish Dancer." The title track and the extra-funky "Night Train," with a fine two-minute guitar solo intro, also got plenty of air play. The remarkable thing here is that Winwood played all the instruments himself - everything, including drums. But he frequently collaborated on the songwriting with Will Jennings, who continued in this role for many years. The sound is terribly modernized and loaded with synth lines and disco dance beats, but it still communicates a fresh, earnest attitude that I don't hear in Winwood's more recent work; he seems more willing than usual to mess around with odd little licks and creepy grooves. The major down side is Winwood's tendency to drag the tunes out, as he did on late-era Traffic records. (JA)

Let The Thunder Cry (Capaldi: 1981)

Talking Back To The Night (Winwood: 1982)
Commercially, this was Winwood's least successful album of the 80s, and afterwards Winwood stayed out of the studio for an unprecedented four years. I'm not sure why, because he goes with shorter and more commercial, dance-oriented numbers this time, and the two singles are both fine tunes that sound a lot like Arc Of's hits: the ballad "Valerie" and the faster-paced "Still In The Game." But neither of them broke the Top 40. He also recycles the warm and fuzzy synth sounds of the last record, usually to good effect, although it's such overkill that it eventually starts sounding impersonal and factory-made. Still, there are some strong tunes here like the slightly funky title track, and I can't see anything that would disappoint a fan. Will Jennings co-authored all tunes, and once again Winwood played all the instruments - there are no guest artists except for a couple backing vocals by Nicole Winwood. (JA)

Fierce Heart (Capaldi: 1983)
I believe this one features "That's Love," Capaldi's one and only Top 40 single. Cult-fave crooner Van Morrison makes a guest appearance. (JA)

One Man Mission (Capaldi: 1984)

Back In The High Life (Winwood: 1986)
This one sold much better than its predecessor, but Winwood was moving farther and farther from his rock roots in the name of selling records. "Higher Love," with Chaka Khan on backups, topped the charts - the only time any member of Traffic ever accomplished this. The title track also got some airplay, and "Freedom Overspill," the other single, hit the Top 40. Joe Walsh appears on one song. (JA)

Some Assembly Required (Mason: 1987)
Mason's first record in seven years, and it's a forgettable low-budget affair. The only well-known players out of a dozen are CSNY associate Joe Lala, who plays conga here ("I Love The Music," an up-tempo cha-cha punctuated by horns); and former Mason band member Mike Finnigan, who joins a half-dozen others singing the annoyingly shrill tenor backup harmonies on almost every track. The production isn't ambitious, sticking with an inoffensive, mid-tempo, mid-80s soft rock formula (disco foolishness on "Hold On"; mushy balladry on "Draw The Line"). It's distinctive only because of a few banjo parts contributed by backup guitarist Jim Krueger ("Fools Gold"). Mason's so strapped for material that he lets Krueger and keyboard player Larry Cohn get a few tunes of their own in, and lyrically he's even more bankrupt, continually trotting out the same tired old romance cliches and simplistic rhyme schemes everybody in the music industry uses. Mason's voice had mellowed and even strengthened over the years, but that's bad news, because it robs him of the raw, earnest sound that originally made him distinctive. Unlike the next record this one includes nothing that will make you run to turn the stereo off, but unless you're already a Mason fan, you'll find it a waste of time. (JA)

Two Hearts (Mason: 1987)
This one is even more of a sellout than the extremely similar contemporary Winwood albums - which is pretty remarkable because Winwood guested here on several songs, even delivering backup vocals on the halfway-decent title track. Having dumped his band, Mason tapped multi-instrumentalist Mike Lawler to fill in the bass lines and a lot of the rest, and then used a drum machine instead of a real musician. The end result is 80s synth pop so formulaic you'd think the computers even wrote the tunes. But the grating music isn't nearly as bad as the nauseating romance-theme lyrics, which drag Mason's unimaginative sad-glad/moon-june rhyming to new lows. All I can say on the up side is that some of the songs like the sappy, sax-slathered "Forever," the silly, wah-wah drenched "Replace The Face," and the stately "Ballerina" do recall Mason's 70s style and might have succeeded with even minimally sincere production. Phoebe Snow and Mike Finnigan join in on the harmonies, but it doesn't help - and yes, Bobbye Hall appears on one track... Understandably, this was Mason's last solo record; as far as I know he next appeared on the 1995 Fleetwood Mac disc. (JA)

Some Come Running (Capaldi: 1988)
If anything, Jim Capaldi's voice has gotten better over the years. He's adopted the same slick soul crooning style that's become Steve Winwood's trademark, but with more grit and (of course) less range. This particular record is mostly entertaining, but being an 80s pop-rock piece it's slathered with all the usual heavy-handed production values: slick backup vocals, ethereal synth tracks, tamely funky bass, crisply distorted guitars, and steamy love lyrics. It's all straight from the factory, but at least Capaldi has an ear for smooth melodies and catchy refrains. The originals were co-written with guitarist Miles Waters and synth bassist/keyboard player/Winwood sound-alike singer Peter Vale. Winwood guests on a few numbers, most notably the title track, where he sings backup, and the catchy "Something So Strong." Eric Clapton solos briefly on the bouncy "You Are The One," and George Harrison joins Clapton on "Oh Lord, Why Lord." Other guests include Roscoe Gee and Mick Ralphs. Capaldi already had put out a half-dozen solo records going back to 1972; all of them were flops, and this is the only one I have. (JA)

Roll With It (Winwood: 1988)
Probably Winwood's biggest commercial moment as a solo artist. The album hit #1 on the charts, something that Traffic had never accomplished even at its early 70s peak of popularity. The memorable title track was one of four singles; Wilson claims it's a copy of Junior Walker & the All-Stars' "Shotgun," but in any case it's a blue eyed soul masterpiece. Practically everything else here has the same slick, infectiously danceable 80s R & B vibe, with peppy disco drums, burbling synth bass, soothing Fairlight effects, slick backing vocals, and remarkably snappy horn arrangements by the surviving Memphis Horns (Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love). The grooves are so solid that Winwood consistently gets away with five- and six-minute running times ("Shining Song"). It's monotonous and slavishly commercial, with just a couple of generic ballads breaking up the formula (the Otis Redding-style "One More Morning"). Still, though, "Don't You Know What The Night Can Do?" builds nicely, and several up-tempo tunes like "Holding On" and "Put On Your Dancing Shoes" rank with the best of his solo career, making this a solid buy for fans. Co-produced by engineer Tom Lord Alge. Everything's co-authored by Jennings, other than the funky Winwood-Capaldi composition "Hearts On Fire." The band is Robby Kilgore and Mike Lawler (keyboards), Paul Pesco (occasional guitar), Jimmy Bralower (drum machine), Bashiri Johnson (percussion), John Robinson (drums), and Tessa Niles and Mark Williamson (backing vocals), with no other guests. (JA)

Refugees Of The Heart (Winwood: 1990)
A typical Winwood solo record in most ways, but it's just no good. Like usual, lyricist Will Jennings cowrote almost all the songs. But inexplicably, Steve mostly sticks to his keyboards and lets professional studio players handle the rest, which renders the proceedings completely faceless. The big exception is the funky single "One And Only Man," co-written and performed in its entirety with Jim Capaldi (Capaldi also drums on a couple other numbers). Clearly the record's high point, it features a fine Winwood guitar solo. The other A-side was the dull ballad "I Will Be Here," with Jim Horn on sax. Elsewhere there's just a little stylistic variety within carefully defined limits, in keeping with the soft-rock production and blandly inspirational lyrics: feel-good New Age on "You'll Keep On Searching," slick, brassy R & B on "Another Deal Goes Down" and "Come Out And Dance," and intricate synth pop on the driving, ten-minute "In The Light Of Day." It's elevator music, but at least it's tasteful and inoffensive. (JA)

Prince Of Darkness (Capaldi: 1993)

Far From Home (1994)
This punningly titled album marks a nominal "Traffic" reunion, but with Chris Wood recently dead and Dave Mason not participating, it's a Capaldi-Winwood collaboration pure and simple - just the two of them writing, singing and playing almost everything. They do succeed in imitating Traffic's sound, with synth flute and real (?) sax a la Wood, prominent and biting guitar, bearable lyrics, and a lot of intricate 70s-style percussion. There's even some experimentation, like guest Davy Spillane's Irish uileann pipes on the eco-preachy "Holy Ground"; and Steve's such a fine guitarist that one wonders why he's abandoned the instrument so often in the past. The bad news is the almost uniformly unmemorable song material and the duo's tendency to fall back on Adult Contemporary pop production. The mostly routine, synthed-up R & B tunes are perilously similar to their recent solo work. Still, it's their most sincere effort alone or together in many years - God help us if Winwood ever goes back to cookie-cutter collaborators like Will Jennings. The "group" toured in support of the record. (JA)

Junction Seven (Winwood: 1997)
You think Winwood's washed up? Au contraire. Instead of the usual Adult Contemporary, he goes with bizarre, beamed-in-from-the-70s production that recreates him as an authentic R & B singer. Working closely with co-producer and one-man rhythm section Narada Michael Walden, he gets no more up to date than on the early 80s Prince-style dance number "Just Wanna Have Some Fun" - which lives up to its title. Actually, the whole disc is fun: genuine 70s hedonism including funk that verges on disco ("Spy In The House Of Love," a catchy tour-de-force; the contagiously silly "Let Your Love Come Down," with Lenny Kravitz on guitar; the Wonder-fully danceable "Fill Me Up"; the booming "Lord Of The Street") and slick soul balladry, done here more tastefully than in years (sleepy mellowisms like "Angel Of Mercy" and "Real Love"; "Plenty Lovin'," a duet with the aptly-named Des'ree). And just in case you don't get the joke, he throws in an intentionally laughable, but crisply performed disco version of "Family Affair" (featuring Nile Rodgers) and a joyful, elaborately produced salsa number ("Gotta Get Back To My Baby"). Easily Winwood's best record since his early 80s comeback. Winwood, Walden, Capaldi, and Eugenia Winwood split most of the songwriting credits. Oddly, Capaldi doesn't appear at all; Mike McEvoy handled a lot of the keyboard parts, Walfredo Reyes Jr. adds some percussion, Jerry Hey arranged the horns. (JA)

Seems like this is the last exit...

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