Rolling Stone (9/3/70, p.42) - "...The best cut on the album is probably the title tune....Wood's flute is again exceptional, delicate and ornate, and Steve sings the song just right, with an admirable sense of restraint and simplicity..."
Q (2/00, p.104) - 3 stars out of 5 - "...a stew of jazz, folk and prog....seeing the band lapsing into a little too much jam-based indulgence..."
Mojo (Publisher) (1/00, p.106) - "...shows that Traffic were capable of thoughtful, inventive and occasionally very beautiful music."
Record Collector (magazine) (p.98) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[With] tracks such as 'Glad' and 'Freedom Rider' featuring extended jamming sections within robust song structures, while 'Every Mother's Son captures Winwood at his most soulful."
Uncut (magazine) (p.94) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "It's a trio record with an economical sound canvas....A much more sophisticated affair, pointing more towards jazz and improvisation than folkish simplicity."
Although JOHN BARLEYCORN MUST DIE was originally intended as Steve Winwood's post-Blind Faith solo debut, Winwood and producer/label head Chris Blackwell first drafted Jim Capaldi to provide lyrics, and then Chris Wood dropped by to add his familiar reeds, and almost by accident, Traffic was reborn.
This was a different, and better, Traffic than the ill-fated quartet lineup with Dave Mason, which never entirely settled on an artistic direction. The sound of JOHN BARLEYCORN MUST DIE, on the other hand, remained the template for the rest of the reunited band's career--long, organically developed songs with a subtle jazz-rock feel, powered by Capaldi's percussion and Winwood's organ. "John Barleycorn," a traditional English folk song about the process of brewing ale (not, as the liner notes mistakenly claim, a call for temperance), here becomes a pastoral reverie carried along by flute and acoustic guitar, and proves to be the record's highlight. However, the quality of the other songs, particularly the instrumental opener, "Glad," and the outstanding ballad "Empty Pages," is nearly as high.