May 13, 2020

This set is a timely reminder that [Steve] Winwood’s bandmates were substantial talents in their own right, and the unheralded drummer perhaps most of all.

Another interesting feature of the rock scene in the halcyon days of the 1970s was that, whenever someone left a successful band (or even before they did so), they would almost without fail embark on a series of solo recordings. Jack Bruce did it after Cream, as did Baker and Clapton with Blind Faith and Air Force. Peter Hammill did it during a Van Der Graaf Generator hiatus. Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel did it, and the other three Genesis men followed suit in the early part of the ’80s. The Moody Blues even took a break while all five of them put out solo albums, and all of Yes had a crack around 1975 as well. Some of those efforts were monumentally awful, of course, but often there was considerable merit. In the case of Traffic, drummer Capaldi, guitarist Dave Mason and of course Steve Winwood all launched solo careers. Surprisingly, it could be very easily argued that, unless you like Winwood’s overly smooth output, the more spiky Capaldi produced the best of the material, the first three of which recordings are included here, along with a DVD.

The first of these albums, 1972’s Oh How We Danced, was recorded as Traffic took a little time off to allow Winwood to recover from Peritonitis. All of the other three Traffic members contribute to the album, even Winwood during his recuperation. Of the three albums contained here, this is the clear winner, as it is a tremendously strong set, with not a poor track among its eight songs as Jim brings together an intoxicating blend of rock, soul, blues and straightforward pop.. Big Thirst, the second song, is an early, laid-back, atmospheric highlight, but the original Side Two is where the peaks really lie, in no small way owing to the guitar contributions from Dave Mason and, most significantly, ex-Free man Paul Kossoff. Don’t Be A Hero features an absolutely scorching solo from Mason, the like of which he very rarely reeled off on his own solo recordings, before Kossoff himself shines on How Much Can A Man Really Take. Perhaps the surprising best is saved for last, however, with the title track – a startling, uptempo, rocked up arrangement of the old Al Jolson standard Anniversary Song. Recorded over the years by a host of dull crooners, Jim here takes the song by the scruff of its neck, gives it a beefed-up, Muscle Shoals horn driven makeover and even a new title, as Kossoff sprays liquid fire all over the track. It’s totally irresistible, and one of that decade’s best kept secrets. There is even a B-side added here which is also of good quality.

The follow-up, two years later, was the painfully-punning Whale Meat Again, featuring most of the same musicians as the debut, and while it contains its share of excellent material, it is not as consistent as the debut. Even the accompanying booklet admits that the choice of the nondescript It’s Alright as the opener was a baffling one, correctly suggesting that the title song, up second, would have been a far better choice. The odd title is explained by the fact that this is an anti-whaling song, and played as a powerful heavy blues it does its job very nicely. Things get patchy as Yellow Sun and Summer Is Fading overstay their welcome while the weak I’ve Got So Much Loving never really establishes a welcome to lose. Do not fear, however, as the good material is here in the shape of the tremendous Low Rider, a funky, driving piece with some storming clavinet work and another stinging guitar solo, this time courtesy of Pete Carr, who also lights up the title track in a similar manner. The closing brief rendition of We’ll Meet Again is delivered very much tongue in cheek, and its main purpose seems to be to hammer home the title pun, in case anyone had somehow missed it. A non-album single is included, and it’s an interesting one. Coming out before the album, Tricky Dicky Rides Again is unsurprisingly a satirical look at everyone’s favourite crooked president Richard Nixon, and it cracks along well. The other thing of note is that the song makes use of a riff which bears an almost identical-twin resemblance to Deep Purple’s Woman From Tokyo – check it out and see!

1975 brought the album Short Cut Draw Blood, the title coming from a Jamaican expression referring to the belief that if you try to take the easy path to something there will be consequences. The album cover took this rather literally, with Jim’s face sporting a short cut which, unsurprisingly, has drawn blood, so no points for subtlety there! The album itself, while not reaching the consistent quality of Oh How We Danced, is nevertheless an improvement over Whale Meat, with the high points being very high indeed. His version of the old chestnut Love Hurts, third up, is an interesting arrangement for sure; its uptempo, exuberant feel may be jarring to those most accustomed to Nazareth’s chest-beating anguish on their hit recording of the track, but nonetheless the Capaldi rendition is well done and ultimately even naggingly danceable, and provides a nice alternative look at the song. We will draw a veil over the disaster which is the mercifully brief reggae stab of Johnny Too Bad, save to ponder the question of why so many great artists attempted to do reggae in those days with almost uniformly ugly consequences. The Beatles began the awful trend with O-Bla-Di-O-Bla-Da, while Eric Clapton sucked the soul out of I Shot The Sheriff and the Rolling Stones plumbed the bottom of the barrel with the ghastly Cherry Oh Baby. Capaldi’s effort isn’t quite as bad as that one, but we’ll move on anyway to the three big hitters of the album, which come one after another in a three-for-three run as tracks 5-7.

The title track sees the album belatedly hit the biting power of the previous albums’ highlights, as urgent-sounding cautionary verses give way to a chorus which is both strong and memorable. It’s a great track, but even better is the following Living On A Marble, in which Jim shows again his qualities as a lyricist (something almost entirely and unfairly ignored about him) as he spits out a diatribe of environmental vitriol, while also intimating that mankind is so flawed that even if we all decided to do the right thing to save the world, we would start killing each other before we could put it into action. It’s dark, thought-provoking and alarmingly prescient for the time. Chris Spedding provides the lead guitar on this one, and boy does he deliver. Bringing up the rear in this golden trilogy is Boy With A Problem, written honestly and openly about the addiction issues of Capaldi’s Traffic bandmate Chris Woods, but with the lead guitar provided in a twist of tragic irony by Paul Kossoff again, himself deep in the grip of the substance abuse which would kill him less than a year later. Boy with a problem indeed. The following Keep On Trying is a percussion-driven studio jam, with a good time being clearly had by all as Jim recites some absurd lyrics, though it does go on a little too long. The closing Seagull, however, is quite lovely; a gentle ballad with the singer wistfully imagining himself as free as a seagull in flight. Three songs from singles of the time are added: it’s interesting to note that the B Side to Talkin’ About My Baby, called Still Talkin’, is effectively an extension of the same song as a ‘part two’ continuing on the flip.

As a sizeable bonus here we get a fourth disc, being a DVD of Jim’s TV appearances on the Old Grey Whistle Test in ’75 and ’76. In November ’75, appearing as The Jim Capaldi Band, and with Winwood on piano, two songs were performed from Short Cut Draw Blood including, notably, the title track. More substantially, in March the following year, Capaldi returned to the show with his band, now dubbed The Space Cadets, to perform an eight-song show at the BBC TV Theatre. Highlights include Low Rider, Love Hurts and Boy With A Problem, and while some of the song selections seem odd, there are two new songs which would not appear until his next album, The Contender, in 1978. It’s an exuberant show, and a great way to round off the set.

The informative booklet is a mine of information about the musicians involved, and also gives a round up of Jim’s life, culminating in his untimely demise from cancer in 2005. It’s an odd thing, and not a little unfair, that the names Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason and Chris Wood are dwarfed in the Traffic story today by the inescapable presence of Steve Winwood. Great musician and writer that he undoubtedly was and is, this set is a timely reminder that Winwood’s bandmates were substantial talents in their own right, and the unheralded drummer perhaps most of all. A very nice set.

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