While I’m Far From Home

I’m far from home myself right now, making a trip with stops in the mountains outside San Diego, then on to Phoenix to visit friends. When I’m on the road, I often hear music from a completely new perspective. The music of uilleann pipes is the music of the soul; the plaintive wail of agonizing pain; a soul so full of joy it can’t be expressed by words; a lifetime of sorrow, deep and intense, but at the same time hollow and empty.

Irish bagpipes are used occasionally in popular music to add a celtic feeling. “Holy Ground”, from Traffic‘s 1994 release “Far From Home” makes full use of the instrument’s emotional power without the need of reference to its cultural heritage. Davy Spillane has provided pipes for such noteworthies as Elvis Costello, Kate Bush, Bryan Adams, Mike Oldfield, Emmylou Harris, Gerry Rafferty, Enya, Van Morrison, and Tommy Makem & Liam Clancy. His heartfelt playing adds so much to the breadth of any song.

As the album “When the Eagle Flies” was dedicated to the memory of ‘Rebop Kwaaku Baah, Master Drummer’, this album is dedicated to another fallen comrade, founding member Chris Wood, who died of liver failure in 1983. Wood’s flute, electric saxophone, and keyboards were part of Traffic’s signature sound in their early days, playing a vital role in the seminal John Barleycorn and in one of my favorites, Roll Right Stones (oddly unavailable.)

“Holy Ground” is a prayer for more rational behavior on the part of all of us who live on this planet and interact with our fellow human beings. Caring for the physical earth, caring for each other, caring for our children; not just our own place, our own loved ones, our own children, but those of the global community of which we are all a part.

The primary melody is carried by Winwood’s simple, direct piano playing. In the past, on larger works like The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys he’s entrusted more complex piano work to Barry Beckett, but this album is more akin to Traffic’s early days, with Capaldi on drums and Winwood on nearly everything else.

Steve’s voice has mellowed over the years, and he uses its power to good effect on “Holy Ground.” Although some of the album’s tunes are admittedly unremarkable, “State of Grace” (just gorgeous) and “Riding High” stand out, as does the uncharacteristic album closer “Mozambique.”

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