David Kinney | San Francisco, Ca. United States | 09/04/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While I, as a Traffic die hard, could arguably have come up with a better 'personal best' selection for a 2 CD compilation I find little to split hairs with on this more than generous offering. Disc one samples the band during their most eclectic phase. These guys were England's answer to The Band/Moby Grape/ Springfield etc. , in that everybody could write, sing and play with a jazzman's tightness and a soulman's looseness. It's a hard trick to pull off, but Traffic did it song after song. Dave Mason's pop offerings were a perfect balance to Steve Winwood's and Jim Capaldi's more experimental jazz/blues/soul output. I'm not gonna hit that slash symbol anymore, I promise, because this band, in all of it's many incarnations, was just too multi-faceted to ever pin down. This set of CDs does the best job of nailing them as any I've heard, so it's a must own.Let's talk highlights then. From their first album I gotta go with "Paper Sun","No Face,No Name and No Number". Of course "Dear Mr. Fantasy" is on the CD but that's a gimmee. Traffic's eponomously titled 2nd LP is well represented here with "40,000 Headmen", "Pearly Queen", and Dave Mason's oft covered but never topped "Feelin' Alright". When Mason and Winwood were in synch they were pretty tough to match. Here is where I would plug in a few more of my personal Traffic faves like "Crying To Be Heard" but hmm.. I said I wouldn't quibble didn't I? Traffic's story became pretty convaluted after that second album what with Mason quitting and rejoining and quitting again, along with numerous member additions and subtractions over the years, so the 2nd CD is not as strong as the first.Having said that, it's still a joy to have the best of "John Barleycorn" and "Low Spark.." on one CD. And even Traffic's weak, last gasp of an album "When The Eagle Flies" is represented here by one of Steve Winwood's most stunning songs, "Walking In The Wind". Much like the multi-talented bands I namechecked at the start of this review, Traffic were just too talented for their own good. The rest of us can sit back and enjoy the musical results of their tumultuous existence. I know I am. Heaven is in your CD tray. Go get it ya'll."
A formidable two-disc set
running_man | Chesterfield Twp., MI | 02/17/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Unless you're a die-hard Traffic junkie dead set on possessing every track the band ever produced, it's a bit of a challenge figuring out how to put together the best Traffic collection at the most reasonable cost. The existance of this superb compilation makes the task even more challenging. 'Smiling Phases' is perhaps tilted toward the front-end of the band's collective works, but the second disc is a tour-de-force in itself. The compilation does back off from the several fine live albums the band has produced, so ownership of 'Live At the Canteen', 'On the Road', and perhaps even 'Last Exit' may be considered necessary to supplement these discs regardless of the direction your collection takes you.
Traffic may be one of the more difficult band's to put together an anthology around, simply because much of their work was album oriented. In fact, Traffic never garnered even a single Top 40 single in the US, and although they scored 3 Top 10 hits in their UK homeland, all of those songs were released in 1967 ('Paper Sun' at #5, 'Hole In My Shoe' at #2, and 'Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, a #8 hit). That doesn't mean the band didn't produce some fine and familiar compositions. Disc one is full of excellent tracks such as the title track, 'Heaven Is In Your Mind', 'Dear Mr. Fantasy', the oft-covered Dave Mason composition 'Feelin' Alright', and 'Pearly Queen'. There are some surprises as well, such as the country-flavored 'You Can All Join In', and the catchy 'Vagabond Virgin', another Mason track. Three of the band's early albums are well represented here, with their debut 'Mr. Fantasy' contributing four tracks, their self-titled second album five, and 'Last Exit' the final three tracks.
Disc two opens with the three best songs from the 'John Barleycorn' disc, the bouncy and rambunctious instrumental 'Glad', the anthemic 'Freedom Rider', and 'Empty Pages', which managed to break into the Top 100 on stateside charts. Three outstanding songs from the band's finest album claim center stage on disc two, 'Low Spark of High Heeled Boys', 'Light Up Or Leave Me Alone', and 'Rock and Roll Stew'. The album 'Low Spark...' may be the most diverse in the Traffic catalog, and these compositions, all coming from different pens within the band, illuminates their depth of talent.
If there is to be a criticism of 'Smiling Phases', it would have to be the presence of only one track from the 'Shoot Out At the Fantasy Factory' album. Few bands (except The Beatles) are able to follow up a monster success like 'Low Spark...' with another classic production, and 'Shoot Out...' was regarded as a disappointing sequel. But the inclusion of the title track here (one of my favorite Traffic numbers) only whets the appetite for more tracks from this disc. At least one more selection, perhaps 'Roll Right Stones' or even 'Evening Blue', would have sufficed to give the album it's due. Even the band's final effort, 'When the Eagle Flies', probably their weakest effort, is afforded two tracks, and 'Walking In the Wind' was an automatic choice anyway. 'Smiling Phases' comes nicely packaged with two booklets, one detailing the set list, and a second featuring 'The Story' of Traffic by writer Chris Welch.
Since I'm not enamoured with the band's early work, I'm probably going to trade this one in, and keep my copy of Steve Winwood's 'Millenium Collection' (which features some of Traffic's best early work, plus selections from The Spencer Davis Group and Blind Faith), and Traffic's live albums. I'll add to that 'Shoot Out At the Fantasy Factory', and that should enable me to indulge my Traffic yearnings. It wouldn't be a bad move to build a collection around this particular compilation, however. Good luck putting together a Traffic portfolio that works for you."
G. J Wiener | Westchester, NY USA | 12/05/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This CD compiles most of Traffic's top songs. The styles of Windwood, Capaldi, Mason, and Wood certainly blend quite nicely together. There are a few songs(here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush, Withering Tree, Walkin In The Wind) which drag a bit. There are some surprises as Medicated Goo is a funky delight and Pearly Queen is dark and spooky. However, the many classic numbers from Low Spark Of Hi Heeled Boys, John Barley Corn, and the early days make it a nice buy for those seeking a fairly deep smattering from this classic rock band."
A good compilation
Russell Diederich | 09/21/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Traffic was a good band who always made fairly uneven albums; with the exception of "Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys," there was never one of their albums that just sounded terrific from start to finish. If there was ever a band that could be well served by a well-crafted "best-of," Traffic was it, and this collection is it, too. The pickings showcase the qualities that made Traffic special when they were on: Steve Winwood's soulful voice and fantastic playing on a wide array of instruments; Jim Capaldi's equally good voice and rock-steady drumming; and the sadly-deceased Chris Wood blowing both hot and gentle on flute and sax. The songs themselves are the cream of Traffic's ouvre, good examples all of Traffic's evolution as a band over their 8 or so years. If you own nothing of theirs, get this and "Low Spark" and you'll have two worthy additions to your collection!"