Nine Lives

Steve Winwood

Steve Winwood has signed on with Columbia Records and returned back to the high life with Nine Lives. Not that he ever left because his previous album, 2003’s About Time, released through his own independent Wincraft label, showed a renewed sense of purpose with a raw and sparse format (Hammond organ, drums, guitar). For Nine Lives, Winwood refines the songs with more accessible breathing room, while retaining the musical muscle to give the record wings.

Touching on elements of jazz, world, country, blues and soul, the CD starts off with the subtle acoustic jangle of “I’m Not Drowning.” A major infusion of Traffic-like nuances (lots of percussions and woodwinds) transports “Fly” to the heavens, as Winwood’s unique vocal reminds us that “there is nothing but clouds in your way.” Meanwhile, “Raging Sea” gets a funky jolt with its arresting turnaround, driven by the assured guitar work of Jose Pires de Almeida Nieto.

Another guitarist of note, one Eric Clapton, gets in his licks on “Dirty City,” a haunting ode that sounds like something Clapton himself might have recorded. But even the legendary ax man, who played a couple of shows in New York with Winwood this past February, would admit the singer’s graceful voice and smooth Hammond fingerings enriches the tune with a brazen and sophisticated sound.

One area where Winwood has found a home is with improvisational jam band music. In 1994 when Traffic reunited for what will likely be the final time (Winwood’s partner, founding member/percussionist Jim Capaldi, passed away in 2005), they toured with the Grateful Dead. Winwood clearly soaked up the grooves during this jaunt, which is why a song like “Hungry Man,” sustained by Nieto’s tinkling lines, Karl Vanden Bossche’s galloping percussion and Winwood’s dazzling Hammond, go have probably lasted well beyond its seven minutes.

Winwood’s knack for experimentation is what made About Time such an artistic achievement. That same spirit gives this CD a life of its own, albeit one with more dimension and dynamics. Whether you favor the jazzy embellishments of “Secrets” and “Other Shore,” or prefer the more straight-ahead calculations of “At Times We Do Forget,” Nine Lives offers a complete picture of Steve Winwood strolling through his fifth decade of sweetening the soundscape with his idiosyncratic, but always welcoming flow of melodious medicine for the soul.

~ Shawn Perry

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