The tell tale sign of growing older can be seen in the aging of the musicians we listen to. This is the case with Steve Winwood who turned sixty this past May. I was about sixteen when I first heard of Steve Winwood. A friend of mine had a Blind Faith album that I loved to listen to. This led me to some of Winwood’s earlier recordings with The Spencer Davis Group and the classic “Gimme Some Lovin’” which has appeared in numerous movie soundtracks over the years.
In the eighties Winwood pursued a solo career and his sound blended with the pop culture of that time. You could sit back and just mellow out to “While You See A Chance” and “The Finer Things” or dance to the sounds from “Roll With It” and “Higher Love“. One of my favorites of Winwood is “Back In The High Life Again” with it’s hint of mandolin playing throughout the song. In the late eighties and early ninties my musical tastes didn’t sway to far from hard rock and heavy metal so Winwood fell from my musical radar screen.
Over the past decade my musical tastes have diversified quite a bit. I have spread my eclectic wings to sample the goods from Rap (Toby Mac and KJ-52), and Country (although it’s mostly pop-country), to R&B and Big Band. Although my heart lives in the safe waters of hard crunching guitars, I have found some sonic pleasure in the dark waters of the less head-banging realm of music. This branching out has lead me to such music sensations as Duffy, John Fogerty, Mark Knopfler, and Josh Groban. Such is the sensation with my album review today.
Steve Winwood’s “Nine Lives” was released April 29th, 2008. The album opened at #12 in Billboard’s Top 200 albums. This was his highest US debut ever. The album begins with “I’m Not Drowning” a blues rendition with a great delta blues guitar riff that runs throughout the song. The second track is “Fly” which is a masterpiece of blended acoustic jazz and world music. The third song of the album is “Raging Sea”. It is an unusual mix of funky guitar and blues structure. The Hammond B3 organ which comes in about half-way through the song is an old signature of Winwood’s music. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it at first listen but it has grown on me. The next song is probably my favorite of the album. The track is called “Dirty City”. It is low down and gritty blues cry about a, you guessed it, a dirty city. The added bonus is the featured guitar of fellow Blind Faith band mate Eric Clapton.
Album highlights include “I’m Not Drowning”, “Fly”, “Dirty City” with the gutter blues and lyrics that cry:
The roar of the train runs by my room
And on these summer nights I can’t sleep anymore
I walk in the streets to greet the dawn
Or stay at home all night and stare at the floor
Dirty city, this is a dirty town
Where’s the pity, I can’t move on up to higher ground
“Hungry Man” is a Brazilian-style jazz piece that also features the ever present Hammond B3 organ. “Secrets” follows this with a latin-styled funk that features a nylon acoustic guitar playing a cool riff. The bridge of the songs contains a spectacular flute solo. “At Times We Do Forget” is a song with a subdued mixture of latin rhythms and blues that present themselves during the chorus. A chorus that instructs us:
And the light shines above every nation
But at times we do forget about them
Like my brother who is falling down
But at times we do forget about him
I definitely give this album high marks on it’s musical strength and diversity. Steve Winwood has once again won my heart at least for a short time. I love and appreciate the musical textures of latin jazz and funk with the signature rhythm and blues of his trademark stylings. The lyrical content is pretty good and most times you have an idea what the song is about. It is a nice change of pace from the head-banging stress of the metal genre that I tend to gravitate toward. I give the album four and a half stars out of five.
Check out the video for “Dirty City” here. It is a great song but the video is not yet available for embeding into web pages.