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Music Review: Steve Winwood – Nine Lives

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In 1965, the Spencer Davis Group issued its first single, “I’m A Man,” which introduced the world to a rhythm and blues wunderkind named Steve Winwood. An innately soulful vocalist and musician – particularly on the Hammond organ – Winwood would, over the next four decades, play an eminent role on a range of seminal albums including those made with Blind Faith, Traffic, and under his own name.

When he performed with former Blind Faith comrade Eric Clapton this past February at Madison Square Garden, Winwood fared particularly well with his more diverse Traffic material. In playing songs like the blues-heavy “Pearly Queen,” the cryptic “No Face, No Name, No Number,” and the surrealistic “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” he bore out the spectrum of his versatility.

From that eclectic spirit comes his latest solo album, Nine Lives, which finds Winwood drawing on an amalgam of styles and influences. Loose, spiraling rhythms and percussion give much of the music a fusion sound tinged with jazz and Latin subtleties. “We’re All Looking” and “Dirty City” – the latter featuring a boiling Clapton solo – jangle and surge to kinetic, tumultuous grooves. The presence of flute and saxophone, both beautifully played here by Paul Booth, adorn lilting songs like “Other Shore” and “Fly,” imparting an ambient mood that sprawls across the album.

This music’s unfailing and most rewarding element, as one would hope and expect, is Winwood’s singing as well as his work on the Hammond, both of which resound mightily here. His vocal phrasing and fluidity often turn out lyrics as inflections, as on “Raging Sea” and “Secrets,” evoking something ultimately more affecting than the words themselves. When his voice ascends to reach the organ’s sanctified strains on “At Times We Do Forget,” the synergy is, quite simply, exhilarating.

In ways both appreciable and mystifying, Nine Lives encompasses the breadth and scope of Steve Winwood’s musicality. The songs recall the progressive phases of his late-sixties and seventies endeavors, yet they come across as neither dated nor unoriginal. To the contrary, the music sounds challenging and inspired, making for a solid album that will – forty-three years after his first release – give further credence to Winwood’s longevity.

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About Donald Gibson

Donald Gibson is the publisher of and a freelance music journalist whose byline has appeared in such publications as No Depression, Spinner, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, Cinema Sentries, Blinded by Sound, and Blogcritics, where he was the Senior Music Editor (2011-2012) and Assistant Music Editor (2008-2011). He has interviewed and profiled such artists as Tony Bennett, Lucinda Williams, Jakob Dylan, Allen Toussaint, Boz Scaggs, Charli XCX, Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues), Susanna Hoffs, Bruce Hornsby, Delbert McClinton, Jonny Lang, Alan Parsons, Bill Frisell, Joan Armatrading, Christina Perri, Don Felder (The Eagles), Jimmy Webb, Katie Melua, and Buddy Guy, among many others.
  • Josh Hathaway

    I’m intrigued, Donald. Winwood has always been out on the periphery for me. He’s always seemed interesting enough that I should know his work better but hadn’t made a compelling enough case to get me to bust out the wallet… yet. I’ve heard good things about the album and your review is the best yet. Good work, sir.

  • Pico

    I’ve listened to Nine Lives twice now and I can wholeheartedly vouch for what Donald wrote about this record. He nailed it.

  • Donald Gibson

    Josh, I think Winwood has been out on the periphery in much of his career (so your impression of him is actually on the mark). His ’80s solo success notwithstanding, Winwood seems to have prefered to be but a player in a band, a musician in a session (as he was for Jimi Hendrix, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, George Harrison, and many others). He’s just so talented that his contributions tend to get attention.

    Thanks Josh and Pico for the kind words on the piece.

    – Donald

  • Glen Boyd

    I’m gearing up to write my own review of this disc Donald, but I have to say that you’ve pretty much nailed it here. Congrats on the link from Winwood’s website too!


  • Connie Phillips

    Congrats! This article has been forwarded to the websites and

  • Donald Gibson

    Thank you, Connie. I appreciate it.