Smiling Phases

Between Steve Winwood’s sensational 1964 debut as a soulful teen prodigy in the Spencer Davis Group and his stodgy adult solo career that began in the 1980s, the gifted Englishman did most of his growing up in Traffic. For nine fascinating albums, from 1967 to 1974, Traffic kept its vistas wide and its touch light, imaginatively adapting an airy blend of jazz and rock. Equally adept at brisk pop ditties (”You Can All Join In”), folk balladry (”John Barleycorn”), secular gospel (”Feelin’ Alright”), and much more, Traffic managed to explore many styles of serious pop music with mostly unwavering taste. Smiling Phases, a perfectly valid selection of 26 tracks from the band’s seven studio LPs and its singles, neatly condenses the group’s sizable career onto two CDs, very wisely downplaying the improvisational self-indulgence of Traffic’s live albums. The set doesn’t contain any real rarities, and no special efforts were made to improve the sound of source tapes, but it does focus the eclectic scope of Traffic’s artistry into a brisk, compelling portrait. B+

Smiling Phases
  • Music