Traffic: Welcome to the Canteen

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.


Welcome to the Canteen

Label: Island
US Release Date: 2002-03-19
UK Release Date: 2002-04-22

By the time Traffic recorded John Barleycorn Must Die in 1970, a new phase of their career had begun. The psychedelic rock songs had been replaced by mellower, jazzy jams. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Dave Mason had gone his separate way, recording the excellent Alone Together with Leon Russell and Bonnie & Delaney Bramlett in 1970. In 1971, however, Mason joined Traffic for a short stint on the road. Although he was enthusiastic about the energy of the live shows and expressed interest in touring America, the reunion only lasted for six dates. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful run and Island was there to record it. Instead of exploring the Barleycorn material on Welcome to the Canteen, Traffic dipped into its vintage material, added a couple of Mason tracks, and put on one more rock 'n' roll show to close out the era. While this makes the album unrepresentative of the band's later work, a number of these live tracks are simply glorious.

The first half of Welcome to the Canteen -- about 20 minutes -- exceeds expectations. The band kicks off with a high energy take on "Medicated Goo", dating from Last Exit. This is one of the many Traffic songs that means absolutely nothing. Once upon a time, it seems, being a good rock 'n' roll band was enough. Next up, Mason offers the gentle "Sad and Deep as You" with little more than an acoustic guitar and flute to sustain his vocal. The polite crowd seems more than happy to have him back in the fold. Winwood then delivers a six-minute take on "40,000 Headmen", a lovely minor-key piece that evokes a mysterious, undefined time and place. The song goes on about twice as long as it needs to, but no one really seems to mind. This half of the album, or Side A as it was originally issued, closes out with "Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave", the most charged five minutes on the album. The song rocks and the band gels beautifully here, creating a perfect Traffic moment.

The second half of the album contains all of two tracks: "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and "Gimme Some Lovin'". This material is much less essential, primarily due to the looseness of the extended jams and indifferent Winwood vocals. He apparently was ready, according to the liner notes, to get back to the studio to work on new material. Perhaps this set of oldies bored him. These two cuts also remind the listener that this version of the band wasn't well rehearsed; everyone may have known all of the key changes, but they couldn't necessarily turn it into magic. And while "Dear Mr. Fantasy" opens up easily for extended jamming, "Gimme Some Lovin'" doesn't seem worthy of a nine-minute take. Still, Mason's gritty guitar adds a little something extra to these pieces.

It's interesting to note that Island's reissue of Welcome to the Canteen doesn't include any bonus tracks. While repeated songs and inferior outtakes can be boring on reissues, it would have been fun to have another 20 minutes of live Traffic for better or worse. Even as it stands, though, the album offers a close facsimile of what the original Traffic sounded like live, and that's reason enough to add it to your collection. It seems ironic in retrospect that Mason's temporary return to the fold augmented a back-to-the-basics approach, because his pop bent had always been a matter of contention within the band. This short-lived version of Traffic rocked much harder than the band would on either John Barleycorn Must Die or Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. Perhaps the guys relished an opportunity to say goodbye to an earlier era by playing a little rock 'n' roll one more time.





'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.