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Singer-guitarist provides fresh take on Traffic, solo songs

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Throughout his long-running solo career, singer-guitarist Dave Mason has regularly returned to and placed emphasis on his Traffic roots.

He’s doing it again this year — and in a big way. His current tour is dubbed Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam, and on his new album, Future’s Past (due May 13 via Something Music/MRI), Mason includes a mini-tribute of sorts to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group he co-founded circa 1967 with Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood. (Mason has gone as far to say recently, “I think that it is important to keep alive the legacy of four young men from the heartland of England and their contribution to contemporary music.”)

On a cover of the Traffic classic “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” Mason makes good use of guest guitarist Joe Bonamassa, and while it’s a well-executed track, it feels guided by remote control and sorely misses the soulful vocals of Winwood. “You Can All Join In” is another Traffic cover, and although Mason’s vocals are serviceable, they don’t have the same spark as the original.

Mason has the raspy verve of Dr. John on some of the cuts (especially on “Good 2 You,” previously recorded for Mason’s 2008 album, 26 Letters — 12 Notes), and overall he is in good voice. His fervent growl is never more pronounced than it is on “World in Changes,” which originally appeared on Mason’s solo debut, 1970’s Alone Together. This truncated version (by about half a minute) has a more reggae-infused style than the original’s bouncy, rock ’n’ roll feel.

Even thought the lyrics still hold up and take on new resonance, this reworked track does nothing to eclipse the original.

Mason’s electric and acoustic guitar playing is as steady as ever, but he is content to let his guest musicians take over the spotlight when warranted, as Jason Roller does on “Good 2 You” and “You Can All Join In.”

Future’s Past also includes new material: “That’s Freedom,” which harkens back to ’60s and ’70s activism: “We’re all concerned about Mother Earth/Can we make it better?/Do we make it worse?” Mason doesn’t oversell his message here. He has a longstanding devotion to political and environmental causes, and he could never be more sincere in his quest to save and change the planet.

With Future’s Past, Mason reaches across a musical landscape he has inhabited for almost 50 years, and in doing so, produces an enjoyable album brimming with rock history. This appealing but not always cohesive (especially in the reworked songs) collection serves as a reminder that there is a rewarding and extensive back catalog of Mason material to mine, even as he continues to search for future treasures.

— By Donald Gavron