Traffic was one of Britain’s iconic bands in the 1960s propelling Jim Capaldi to centre stage. As a fan of the band, I was delighted to find out that Capaldi’s masterpiece album Short Cut Draw Blood was now available on streaming platforms for the first time. The album was his first after Traffic broke up and marked a turning point in his career with its blended soundscape drawing on Latin, funk and African jazz.
The socio-economic themes threaded into the tracks are still as relevant and poignant today as when the album was released. Recorded between 1973 to 1974, the album includes a stellar cast of guest musicians including Traffic bandmates Steve Winwood and Chris Wood.
The album opens with an infectious piano line in ‘Goodbye Love’. There is a delightful groovy vibe to the music that draws you into the vocals. Capaldi’s voice is everything you love about bands from the 60s and 70s. The grooves of the melody are wonderfully countered by the soulful smoothness of the vocals. There are a lot of instruments that make an appearance throughout the track bringing a jazzy flair to the song. The saxophone that comes through at times brings a heavier hit of jazz to the song with a touch of funk.
‘It’s All Up to You’ has a sombre feeling in the opening that is brought to life by Capaldi’s vocals. This takes a questioning turn as the melody hits you with a brighter sound. There is a wonderful movement in this song as you move from almost sad folk-rock tones to the higher clapping tones of the chorus. When the guitars float through and pick you up, Capaldi places you on a soft cloud of sound.
The delicate opening of ‘Love Hurts’ leads you to a more paced sound. The beats and crashing cymbals have your feet tapping while you get down to the music. This is a faster version of this song which listeners might know from Nazareth. The faster tempo with the unforgettable tones of Capaldi’s vocals makes this an amazing cover. It also offers a unique version of the song that brings all the innovation he is known for to the fore.
‘Johnny Too Bad’ brings another new vibe to the music with some reggae style lyrics melding with a touch of groovy funk. This keeps to the roots of the single which was originally written by The Slickers, a Jamaican rocksteady and reggae group. While the lyrical structure has a reggae hit, the horns that come in later in the track bring more funk to the soundscape. This is a really easy song to listen to as you get lost in the story of Johnny and the soothing flow of Capaldi’s vocals.
The title track ‘Short Cut Draw Blood’ has a hit of Traffic in it as Capaldi’s vocals call out over an infectious guitar line. The guitar has your head moving to it while the beats make your muscles move without any conscious thought. There is an expansive feeling to the music as the melodic elements warp in the background and the vocals send your mind soaring. This track is a bit heavier than the songs that came before it but is probably one of my favourites on the album.
The next track is ‘Living on a Marble’ which brings a darker feeling. This is enhanced by the vocals that call out the establishment and how people are controlled. While this song was written many years ago, it is easy to relate to as the themes and concepts are still relevant. The thrumming of the guitars and stomping of the beats drive the messaging of the song through your brain. Through the vocals, the track draws you into a melodic protest against the status quo.
‘Boy With a Problem’ has a really interesting opening that pulls you in with an almost cinematic feeling. The string arrangement is utterly wonderful as it leads you into this big production vibe that gives way to something a little more intimate. Capaldi’s vocals creep across the melody with this amazing storytelling quality that you can’t really help but love. The sombre tones of the opening give way to a flowing call on the chorus.
The spoken opening of ‘Keep on Trying’ brings a different vibe to the track as you get into a real party vibe. The piano and organ lines that Steve Winwood brings to the sound has a jam session feeling. In fact, the whole song has this vibe like you are at a party and people have just started to play letting the music take them where it will. The lyrics and vocals continue this feeling while the background vocals are all party time.
The album comes to a close with ‘Seagull’ which has a softer and more folk feeling to it. You can just imagine sitting on the beach watching the seagulls from the lyrics. Capaldi’s voice has a tender feeling that is matched by the delicacy of the melody. This song is like a great exhale after the innovation of the rest of the album. You are put into this wonderfully soft moment before your spirits are sent flying over the landscape.
Short Cut Draw Blood is a masterpiece that showcases the versatility of Jim Capaldi while offering a song for everyone to enjoy. With a fusion of melodic elements and genres, he takes on social issues that are still relatable today while letting your mind soar on the waves of his music.