Steve Winwood returned with great songs, and an old friend, on Nine Lives

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It’s always refreshing to see a long-established rock star with nothing left to prove actually act that way and just follow his muse. Former Spencer Davis group whiz-kid and Traffic progenitor Steve Winwood had done just that when he forsook slick production and compact, radio-friendly ditties for the earth-bound soulful jams of 2003’s About Time.

Happily, the follow up Nine Lives ran along the same lines, as Winwood churned out another collection of organic, blues-y r&b rock, seeming unconcerned at the length they clock in at: He’s clearly still in a jam mode. There are two main differences, though: Nine Lives is less jazzy and also contains Steve Winwood’s best batch of songs since … maybe ever.

“I’m Not Drowning” opens the album with a surprisingly stripped down but effective backwood blues. “Raging Sea” boasts an knockout funky riff that Winwood could have invented years ago. “Dirty City,” which features former Blind Faith bandmate Eric Clapton on guitar, actually lives up its superstar billing. On this gruff blues-rocker, Winwood is playing a filthy-sounding Strat and the brief solo is unmistakably the same guy who once played guitar for Cream. “Hungry Man” shows Winwood’s substantial Latin side, suggesting what “Higher Love” might have sounded like without the 1980s production values.

Of course, when Nine Lives arrived on April 29, 2008, it featured a cover image showing Steve Winwood holding a guitar. Still, no matter how much he tries to highlight his multi-instrumentalism, it’s his organ work that stands out. Winwood always had a knack for knowing just when to underpin the melody and when to swell it up at the precise right times. The longer, freer-flowing songs brought that out better than at any time since his Traffic days. His voice remains in fine form, too.

It might sound overly effusive to state this, but there really wasn’t any hint of filler on the entire record. The multi-talented Steve Winwood put all those talents to fore on Nine Lives, one of his very best albums.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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