(All Album Reviews by JJ)
Despite Traffic's deserved admiration amongst progressive rock fans, one suspects Steve Winwood's solo career has gathered less acclaim in the prog community- particularly his slick 1980s output which veered towards AOR/Adult Contemporary. Happily, though, his latest release Nine Lives gets back to an earthier sound and the result is one of his most satisfying releases to these ears. Indeed, in America, the public seemingly concurred, as he reached a very impressive Number 12 in the Billboard charts.
American fans were treated to some dates by Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton playing together earlier in the year. In addition, the single from this album, “Dirty City”, features Clapton on fine form in the guitar department, supplying a suitably gutsy guitar riff which is combined with Winwood's shimmering Hammond organ and typically soulful vocal, and should give a thrill to any Blind Faith fan.
There are indeed several songs on this album which would have fit on the 1970s Traffic albums to my ears. The most obvious of these is “At Times We Do Forget”, with its “Glad”-like shuffle and jaunty flute work bringing back memories of Chris Wood's performances on Traffic songs. However, the opening salvo of “I'm Not Drowning” with its bluesy vocal, the funkier flavour of “We're All Looking” or “Secrets” and the jazzy, percussive “Hungry Man” also qualify. Indeed, I would argue all of these tracks get closer to the rootsiness of the 1970s Traffic albums than the bona fide 1990s Traffic album 'Far From Home' did.
Some of the other songs- particularly the ballads- have more of a flavour of Winwood's own solo career, such as “Fly” and the closing “Other Shore”. However, I find both songs to be very effective and emotionally affecting and the lack of the high-gloss production techniques that characterised his 1980s albums means that the songs are allowed to shine on their own merits with a minimum of fuss.
Overall, I find this album to be very enjoyable and maybe my favourite of all of his solo albums that I own. There's something for all of his fans on this album.