Steve Winwood has enacted some commercial compromises during the course of his solo career‚ but his debut album on Columbia Records‚ Nine Lives‚ finds him elevating his visibility on behalf of music that deserves attention.
The initial track‚ "I'm Not Drowning‚" reminiscent in its ghostly aura of Traffic's The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys‚ displays the cohesive dynamic in play throughout the album. Altogether different than many previous Winwood solo works‚ where he played most of the instruments himself‚ the crucial constant in all these recordings remains the wailing sound of Steve's voice. His singing imbues "Raging Sea" and "Fly" with passion aplenty‚ and the sound of flute on the latter also recalls Traffic circa John Barleycorn Must Die.
Winwood's previous studio album‚ About Time‚ was an organic piece of work‚ of which "We're All Looking" is a direct extension. On that 2003 album‚ Winwood emphasized the fluid sound on his Hammond B3 keyboard mixed with percussion‚ the likes of which also warms and enriches Nine Lives. The deceptively simple but expert production on the new CD reveals the individual instrumental elements in detail on arrangements of tracks that generally exceed five and six minutes in length.
The appearance of Eric Clapton's loud‚ jagged electric guitar on the foreboding "Dirty City" markedly alters the languid mood generated to that point. Nine Lives might've benefited from one other such appearance from Slowhand -- or an extended guitar interval from Steve himself on "Other Shore‚" in place of the it's sax solo -- to maintain a similar level of intensity. Nevertheless‚ the languorous air that arises from so many tracks here‚ like "Hungry Man" and "Secrets‚" is ultimately intoxicating.
Coming off some highly successful dates with Clapton at Madison Square Garden in New York‚ and in anticipation of his summer slot opening for Tom Petty‚ Steve Winwood is clearly proud of the work he does. Based on Nine Lives‚ he deserves to be.
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