This is a monthly series of album reviews I will be doing for DVL Audio here in Canada. I’ll be heading out to a local record store in Vancouver, digging through the bins, and coming up with an intriguing LP to discuss here on Part-Time Audiophile. I’ll never go out with something in mind beforehand, and there is no criteria for whether it’s a new album, an old album, an out-of-print LP, electronic, classical, jazz, punk – whatever – it just has to sound good to me.
I’ll come up with as much of the backstory as I can research, and include a small audio sample for listening. I hope you enjoy reading the reviews as much as I enjoy doing them.
It’s a cool shape, features eye-catching artwork, and has a provocative title… what more could you ask of an LP when you’re flipping through stacks? Especially at a thrift store.
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys is the fifth album by British classic rock/prog-rockers Traffic. It hit record stores in November 1971 – just two months after being recorded – and was certified Gold in the United States less than a year later after making it to No.7 on the charts. I’d snagged a copy several years ago from a record store, but it had a few really bad pops, and ticks that even my Okki Nokki vacuum record-cleaning machine couldn’t fix, so when I came across this copy in a $1 bin, I crossed my fingers before sliding it out of the sleeve. It looked great, and after getting it home, and running it through the RCM, I again hoped it would play quietly: It did.
Because of the poor shape of my previous copy, It had been played only a couple times, so I never really got into it, but this fresh-to-me LP got inserted into rotation on my turntable for listening sessions right away. While Internet writers have referred it to as an underrated album, with band members Steve Winwood, James Capaldi, Ric Grech, Rebop Kwaku Baah, Chris Wood, and Jim Gordon being glossed over as a group that is “devoid of intellectual thrust,” according to Robert Christgau, I share no such criticism. Some may be familiar with Traffic’s previous studio album, 1970’s John Barleycorn Must Die (which has seen several re-issues, and remastering treatments, and managed to reach No.5 on the charts in the United States), and was the impetus for my interest in this LP. Barleycorn is another prog-rock classic, which, like Low Spark, contains beautiful production quality courtesy of recording engineer Brian Humphries, and plays back with utterly captivating tonal conviction.
Recorded sample below:
This is a mellow album, with a few funky numbers sewn into the sonic blanket (“Rock & Roll Stew”) the group has draped itself with here. I thoroughly enjoyed everyone’s efforts, with Winwood’s vocals utterly sublime on every track. The opening cut “Hidden Treasure” is ethereal, and Wood’s pitch-perfect flute work sets the stage for a laid back, meandering theme of getting back to nature (“Rainmaker”), an early ’70s tour of fading flower power (“Many a Mile to Freedom”), and a nod to corporate fatigue in the title track’s lyrics “And the man in the suit has just bought a new car/ From the profit he’s made on your dreams.” Gordon’s stick work is like a metronome, flawlessly setting the pace for every track as Baah’s percussion work keeps pace, and Winwood’s piano, and organ noodling joins in seamlessly – particularly on “High Heeled Boys.”
An album for kicking back with a glass of wine or a beer after a hectic work day, or conversely for easing into the weekend on a Saturday morning with a cup of proper coffee on the sofa – either way, Traffic has created an LP that I’m incredibly happy to have added (again) to my collection. Outstanding sonics, and production quality, a group poised at another peak in its career, melodic, and moody enough in its choice of subject matter with prose to satisfy a wordsmith, or listener intent on meaning in lyrics, The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys ticked all these boxes for me, and if you grab it, I hope it does for you as well. Highly recommended.
Associated equipment for listening session:
- Pure Fidelity Eclipse turntable/TA-1000 tonearm
- Benz Micro Wood SL LOMC cartridge
- Audio Note AN-S2 Step-Up Transformer
- Audio Note Soro Phono SE Signature integrated amplifer
- Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE loudspeakers
- Audio Note Lexus/ISIS interconnects and speaker cables
- Audio Note ISIS AC/Mains cables
- Shindo Mr. T Power Conditioner