Steve Winwood, “Nine Lives” (Columbia) 3.5 stars.
Hot on the heels of his triumphant Madison Square Garden shows with old friend Eric Clapton, the seemingly ageless Steve Winwood has a new album, filled with the soulful singing and rich keyboards that have been his calling cards throughout his career.
That career dates back a lot further than most other current recordings artists. It’s sometimes forgotten that the soon to be 60-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was only 15 when he joined the Spencer Davis Group and sang mid-1960’s hits like “I’m a Man,” and “Gimme Some Lovin.” Winwood went on to form one of rock’s most influential acts, Traffic, in 1967; played with Clapton ever so briefly in Blind Faith; and delivered a series of successful solo albums, most recently in 2003 with “About Time.” And that’s only a fraction of his musical bio.
“Nine Lives,” reflects the British songwriter’s vision right here and now and what’s immediately noticeable is how little his voice has changed through the decades and how well suited that vocal style is to the stripped-down sound that is dominated here by keyboards and percussion.
There are exceptions though to the musical approach and the one that is getting the most notice already is the explosive “Dirty City,” which finds Winwood’s Hammond organ work complemented perfectly by stinging blasts courtesy of Clapton. Unfortunately it’s the only song here that finds the two rock veterans teamed together, but hopefully with the live reunion behind them, in addition to this brief studio adventure, they might consider working together on an entire album again. The time’s never been better.