Top positive review
5 people found this helpful
Great improvisations in a modest line-up
on March 31, 2009
After another line-up of Traffic split in 1969, Steve Winwood played with the Blind Faith. After that, early in 1970, he planned to record a solo album. Yet, seeking musical partners tuned in the same way as himself, was a bit uneasy. That's why he gratefully accepted co-operation of his old Traffic friends, Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi, and after all the album, John Barleycorn Must Die, was issued under the Traffic heading.
The trio (S. W. - keyb, g, bg, perc, voc; C. W. - keyb, saxs, fl, perc; J. C. - ds) was in a wonderful shape that year. The 6 original tracks are a tremendous blend of various musical styles and influences, yet holding perfectly together on one album. The majority of tracks (4-7 min each) allows space for solo improvisations. The instrumental opener ("Glad") starts off with a rhythmic piano and woodwind riff, which might be, by current categorization, assigned even to funky jazz-rock. However, the composition spreads into sax and then keybord improvisations, the piano in the end sounding nearly like a classical one, almost impressionistic style. Track 2 ("Freedom Rider") begins with a sax motif (which might have been an inspiration for the sax jingle of the TV series on Hercule Poirot :-). A lovely flute solo is featured as well. In track 3 ("Empty Pages"), a melodic folk-like tune, Winwood's vocal (commonly somewhat strangled) sounds, especially in the refrain, almost like Phil Collins. Probably no guitars are employed in these 2 compositions (tracks 2 & 3). In contrast, one of the additional tracks that were included into this remastered reissue (track 4 - "I Just Want You to Know"), is a short tune based on vocal harmonies and then it features a lovely guitar solo. Track 6 is the outstanding title composition - an English folk ballad, "John Barleycorn Must Die." As noted on the cover, the first record of this song appeared in 1465 in the age of James 1st. It is said to be about "the effort of people to give up the alcohol distilled from barley." Track 7 ("Every Mothers Son") has appeared on some compilations of progressive rock of the time. It features a catchy legato guitar figure and later, this composition transforms into folk-rock'n'blues keyboard improvisations, with perfect, time-to-time even exalted Winwood's singing (of course, Winwood is no Freddie Mercury, but his voice is very functional and suitable for this kind of music). Tracks 7 & 8 were recorded only be 2 people - Winwood played everything except for drums.
The sound of this remaster is quite nice; to me, only the additional track 4 sounds somehow flatter. The 2 bonus tracks are very pleasing (the total time of the extended issue is no more than 39:31 min), and depite that in general, I quite dislike spreading the added material in between the original one, on this album, it is quite feasible (the extra material being track 4 and the last track 8): in case you don't have the original recording in your ears, you would not recognize the E.T." among the old material. The cover is the original - very decent. It is an older painting provided by the English Folk Dance & Song Society; it depicts a faggot of barley(?).
Whom to recommend this music: to anyone who likes the progressive rock music with lots of improvisation of the turn of 1960's and 1970's. If you like Clapton, Blind Faith etc., and the British folk, you won't be dissapointed. This record is superb, 5 stars.