Traffic – The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

More Traffic

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

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  • This is an outstanding Island Sunray domestic pressing offering spacious Tubey Magical Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Low Spark is clearly one of the best sounding Proggy/Arty Rock records ever made – the space it recreates in your listening room is HUGE 
  • A Better Records Top 100 album and a real Demo Disc on a pressing that sounds as good as this one does
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The commercial and artistic apex of the second coming of Traffic… The standout was the 12-minute title track, with its distinctive piano riff and its lyrics of weary disillusionment with the music business. “

After doing the shootout for John Barleycorn recently, a record we love in spite of its problematic sound, this album was truly a breath of fresh air. I can honestly and enthusiastically say that the sound we heard on the best pressings was OUT OF THIS WORLD. This album is a permanent member of our Rock And Jazz Top 100, that’s how good it is.

Who knew? We had no idea this recording could sound so incredibly spacious and open. The distortion level is so close to zero that we don’t even want to assign a positive number to it. Let’s just say it’s below the threshold of hearing; does that work for you?

What outstanding sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1971
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments (and effects!) having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we listed above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Music and Sound — Some Kind of Connection There

We think better sound creates in the mind of the listener a stronger and deeper appreciation of the music itself. This will not come as news to anyone on this site; that’s what it means to be an audiophile. True to form, the amazing sound of the best pressings helped us to really get into this album during our shootout.

Clearly, this is a Classic Traffic album that belongs in any serious collection. (Along with John Barleycorn Must Die, to our minds inarguably their masterpiece. Throw in The Best Of and you have most of the best music with the best sound on record by Traffic.)

For music this important and powerful, you do not want to waste your time listening to a run-of-the-mill pressing or some second-rate Heavy Vinyl reissue. You want a killer Hot Stamper, the kind of record that can really transport you to the world of The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.

Size and Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, lacking presence and immediacy in the center of the soundfield.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundscape, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

We often have to go back and downgrade the copies that we were initially impressed with in light of such a standout pressing. Who knew the recording could be that huge, spacious and three dimensional? We sure didn’t, not until we played the copy that had those qualities, and that copy might have been number 8 or 9 in the rotation.

Think about it: if you had only seven copies, you might not have ever gotten to hear a copy that sounded as open and clear as that eighth or ninth one. And how many even dedicated audiophiles would have more than one of two clean original (or otherwise) copies with which to do a shootout?

One further point needs to be made: most of the time these very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy do what this copy can, it’s an entirely different – and dare I say unforgettable — listening experience.

What We’re Listening For on The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Hidden Treasure 
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys 
Light Up or Leave Me Alone

Side Two

Rock and Roll Stew 
Many a Mile to Freedom 
Rainmaker

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review!

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys marked the commercial and artistic apex of the second coming of Traffic, which had commenced in 1970 with John Barleycorn Must Die. Low Spark pointedly contained changes of pace from his usual contributions of midtempo, introspective jam tunes. “Rock & Roll Stew” was an uptempo treatise on life on the road, while Jim Capaldi’s “Light up or Leave Me Alone” was another more aggressive number with an unusually emphatic Capaldi vocal that perked things up on side two. The standout was the 12-minute title track, with its distinctive piano riff and its lyrics of weary disillusionment with the music business.

MoFi – The Worst Version Ever

Obviously our Hot Stamper pressing is going to be far better than the MoFi Anadisq LP from the mid ’90s. How much better? Words fail me.

That record was an out and out disaster. Perhaps some of the MoFi collectors didn’t notice because they had nothing to compare it to. God forbid they would ever lower themselves to buy a “common” pressing such as this Island. Had they done so, what they would have heard is huge amounts of musical information that is simply missing from the MoFi pressing.

The MoFi has no leading edges to any of the transients. They’re all shaved off, how that managed that I frankly have no idea. Blunted and smeared, their version is positively unlistenable. My friend Robert Pincus once left a Post-It note stuck to a MoFi jacket of a record he was playgrading for me that pointedly (albeit cruelly) summed up our shared thoughts on the quality of their mastering: “Did MoFi bother to listen to this before they ruined it?”