Dave Mason: “Only You Know and I Know”
Dave Mason achieved fame initially as one of the key members of the British band Traffic, sharing primary songwriting and singing with Stev(i)e Winwood (drummer Jim Capaldi wrote most of the lyrics for Winwood’s music) on their first two albums. Mason and Winwood were good complements to each other: Winwood with his soulful voice and sinuous rock jams, and Mason with his earthier vocals and simpler, folk-rock songs. Between the two, and with the great musicianship of Capaldi and reed player Chris Wood, Traffic was one of the more interesting bands of the late ’60s, even as they tended to be overlooked compared to such huge bands as the Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who, and the like. Part of that may have been due to their somewhat tumultuous membership: Mason and Winwood were in frequent disagreement, and Mason left after both the first and second albums, staying gone the second time.
After departing Traffic for the final time, Mason turned around and released Alone Together in 1970, and it wouldn’t be hard to argue that it was the best solo album that he would ever release. On this album, the strengths he’d brought to Traffic all came together to reveal Mason at his peak. Filled with lyrical depth and great musicianship from a number of guest musicians, including Eric Clapton, it’s an album that grows on you with every listen. Among the great songs on it are “Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving” and “Waitin’ on You,” but my favorite song from it is “Only You Know and I Know,” a semi-hit for him. It only reached #42 on the U.S. charts, but it’s certainly among the best songs of 1970, and perusing any list of other songs from that year will tell you that’s saying something. With a rocking acoustic guitar strum at its core (and if you read this blog frequently, you know how much that appeals to me), the song gallops along at a brisk pace, spiced up with electric guitar fills, a highly musical bass line, and (for a song like this) the requisite tambourine shakes. Mason’s bluesy singing is truly excellent, making a solid case for him being just as soulful a singer as Winwood. Although Mason released songs later in the ’70s that were bigger hits, he never reached the quality of “Only You Know or I Know” or the other great songs from Alone Together again.