John Barleycorn Must Die is the Traffic album that nearly never was. After all, the band had split up a couple of years earlier after guitarist Dave Mason left the group for the second time. It was a sudden end to what had seemed like such a bright beginning only a couple of years before.
Traffic formed in April 1967 when Spencer Davis Group man, Steve Winwood, ex-Deep Feeling drummer Jim Capaldi, flautist and saxophonist Chris Wood (who had been in Shades of Blue with Christine McVie) and Dave Mason, who decades later turned up in the post-Christine McVie Fleetwood Mac. Such are the roundabout ways of music.
Their early psychedelic songs were all hits in the UK with "Paper Sun," "Hole in My Shoe," and "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush" all hitting the UK Top 10 singles chart within a period of six months. However, they quickly diversified, incorporating jazz and improvisational techniques into their sound for their second and, seemingly, last album, Traffic. With the band splitting, Steve Winwood headed off to join Eric Clapton in the ill-fated Blind Faith, but after that band's abrupt end he went into the recording studio to make his debut solo album, to be called Mad Shadows, with producer Guy Stevens.
But after only getting a couple of tracks down — "Stranger to Himself" and "Every Mother's Son" — he invited Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi along, and Traffic was reborn; albeit in a different style to what had gone before. With the UK folk-rock explosion headed by the likes of Pentangle and Fairport Convention underway, Traffic added some of that influence to the jazz and blues concoction of their second album, and ended up creating what will always be their masterpiece, John Barleycorn Must Die.
This deluxe edition has been overseen by Steve Winwood and, as well as the original studio album, now digitally remastered, you're getting a second disc of bonus material featuring seven songs recorded live in 1970 at the Fillmore East in New York alongside alternate mixes and versions of album tracks. And it really is worth the effort.