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ROCK BAND TRAFFIC MOVING AGAIN WITH ALBUM, TOUR

SHARE ROCK BAND TRAFFIC MOVING AGAIN WITH ALBUM, TOUR

The band is called Traffic, but the pivotal moments in its history have been made in bucolic, countryside settings.

The group's first music was written 27 years ago in a cottage in rural Berkshire, England. Its landmark 1970 album, "John Barleycorn Must Die," was conceived in a similar setting.And when founding members Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi decided last year to record the first new Traffic album since 1974, they repaired to a farmhouse in southern Ireland. There, they spent eight months writing, recording, taking long walks and hitting the local pubs - finally coming up with the just-released record "Far From Home."

"When Traffic made its best records, we always seemed to spend months in houses and cottages together," says singer-percussionist Capaldi, 49. "We just go into some sort of ancient mode that we know . . . and out it comes.

"It's an unidentified flying object. You can't really bag Traffic. You can't contrive it, either."

In fact, the new Traffic is as organic a rock 'n' roll reunion as you're likely to find. It's neither a blatant money grab like the Eagles' summer concert tour, nor is it the ritualistic spectacle of the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd.

And it's safe to say the world hasn't been clamoring for a Traffic reformation - at least not with the fervor it has for those aforementioned acts.

That's not to say the band hasn't made its mark. For sheer scope and ambition, the group stands at rock's forefront. Between 1968-74, Traffic crafted a gentle and intricate musical blend that began with British and American rock 'n' roll conventions but reached further to incorporate jazz, folk and rhythm 'n' blues.

Traffic was as adept at the psychedelic pop of "Paper Sun" and "Dear Mr. Fantasy" as it was with the wiggly funk of "Medicated Goo," the wooden folk of "John Barleycorn" and the free-form jamming of the definitive Traffic hit, "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys."

"Traffic never paid much lip service to the market," says Winwood, 44. He was just 19 when Traffic formed and had already established himself singing Spencer Davis group hits such as "Gimme Some Loving" and "I'm a Man."

"If we wanted to do a nine-minute song, we'd do a nine-minute song. If we wanted a two-and-a-half-minute introduction before a vocal came in, we'd do it. If a song was too long to play on the radio . . . we didn't care about that. We never did.

"It was always about music and musical exploration. That's really what we're striving for now."

It was Winwood's disenchantment with his solo career that led to a new beginning for Traffic. That may seem odd, since he's had quite a bit of success - including mid- and late-'80s hits such as "Higher Love," "Back in the High Life" and "Roll with It."

But his last solo album, 1990s "Refugees of the Heart," showed renewed enthusiasm for songs that were longer and more musically complex. Winwood played a greater number of Traffic chestnuts during his last concert tour, and in interviews he spoke freely of his fondness for the band and the way it made music.

"Most Traffic stuff comes out of a jamming situation, and that kind of situation doesn't happen when you make solo records," he explains. "When you have a solo career, you're much more at the mercy of the record company and market forces and demographers and that whole mess.

"I think Jim and I both wanted to get into something that offered us the kind of freedom and aloofness and the kind of immunity from market pressures and record company pressures. Within Traffic we feel we're much more immune from those forces."

Winwood and Capaldi, whose own solo career was largely unsuccessful, have maintained their friendship over the years. Both are fathers - Winwood has two young girls and a boy, Capaldi has two teenage daughters - and they own homes about 15 minutes from each other in the English midlands. (Winwood also keeps a residence in Nashville).

They've also written songs together during the intervening years, so hooking up to make music together required little more than a phone call.

"We've had our ups and downs, as anybody does over a 30-year relationship," Capaldi says. "But we're still able to have a friendly pint together."

"We shout at each other and lose our tempers and duel it out," adds Winwood. "That's part of the creative process.

"Yes," says Capaldi. "We get carried away when we're working."

"Maybe I'll fix his food," Winwood cracks.

Putting together the rest of the original Traffic was out of the question. Dave Mason is now a member of Fleetwood Mac, though Winwood says "he's quite welcome to get up and play with us as a guest, if he'd like." Reeds player Chris Wood, meanwhile, died of liver failure in 1983.

Ultimately, Winwood says, he and Capaldi "didn't want to make a replica album; we wanted to make the kind of album that Traffic would have made today, if we hadn't stopped making music during all this time."

Similarly, the duo says the Traffic tour will concentrate on the music they've made together rather than dipping into Winwood's bag of solo hits.