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DVL Album of the Month for February – Traffic

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.

–Rafe Arnott

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The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys – a cut above.

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.

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The DVL Album of the Month is proudly brought to you by DVL Audio.

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Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE loudspeakers used for this review.

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.

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Benz Micro Wood SL on Pure Fidelity Eclipse turntable playing Spark.

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.”

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A cover that doubles as art.

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.

–Rafe Arnott

Associated equipment for listening session:













About Rafe Arnott (391 Articles)
Editor of InnerFidelity and AudioStream

3 Comments on DVL Album of the Month for February – Traffic

  1. hi!, have you ever tried the CBS Studios Technical Series record i got you on any of these? i am interested to know if it is audible and noticeable for value of tuning systems? i only got it the to sample and make a very generic sample cutting recording but i have received the original now and am doing the recording now.

  2. ….and it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest was the low spark of high heeled boys……never more appropriate then today. I would say maybe the reviewers could be more closely devoid of intellectual thrust (or trust). I bought this when it first came out already a big Traffic fan, and practically wore a hole in the original. Thank-you Mo-Fi for a Special Edition Numbered Original Master Recording. I can say No. 38 is not devoid of anything. Timeless. I have also recently picked up On The Road the double live album recorded in Germany in 1973 of some of this, some of Shoot Out at the Fantasy (which is the band on the live record plus extra keyboardist Barry Beckett) along with Glad and Freedom Rider. There is also a single live album of the same tour that I also have with some of the same cuts except for a 15 minute version of Low Spark whereas the double album has a 17 minute version that takes up a whole side. Both the single and double live albums have the same gatefold jacket and have very respectable sound quality. The double album has Recorded Live on Tour in Germany in a box near the song titles otherwise the jackets are identical.

  3. Frank O'Gorman // March 3, 2018 at 2:48 PM //

    Nice review. These reviews are a good, quick way to be reminded of, or discover, good music. Keep it up please.

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