Steve Winwood Revolutions: The Very Best of Steve Winwood Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Career retrospective for enduring R&B legend, available as no-filler disc or four-CD set.

Stevie Chick 2010

It was Steve Winwood’s bluesy holler – weathered beyond his tender years and sounding like he hailed from Birmingham, Alabama rather than Birmingham, England – that gave The Spencer Davis Group the edge over all the other British Invasion groups plying sweaty, R&B-indebted rock’n’roll in the 1960s. Their Keep On Running – a stomping blast of Stax-style soul – scored 17-year-old Winwood his first number one single in 1965, beginning a career that would see him scooping up Grammy Awards 20 years later and – thanks to Eric Prydz’s cheesy Call On Me remodelling of Winwood’s 1987 hit Valerie – topping the singles charts as recently as 2004.

Revolution opens with Keep On Running, and further essays Winwood’s tenure with Spencer Davis via self-penned hits like Gimme Some Lovin’ and the fearsomely funky, Hammond-drenched I’m a Man, both authentic enough to become R&B standards in their own right. The precocious singer was restless, however, moving on in 1967 to form Traffic, whose ambitious fusion of rock, psychedelia, folk and jazz reflected the mind-expanding times, showcasing Winwood’s growing sophistication as both performer and songwriter. No longer merely aping his R&B heroes, he was now delivering darkly powerful blues jams (Dear Mr Fantasy) and sitar-driven episodes of paranoid acid-rock (the eerie, still-chilling Paper Sun).

Traffic eventually burned out in the mid-70s, and a newly-solo Winwood struggled at first to recover his groove; early solo hit While You See a Chance finds him toying with earnest pop melodies and synthesisers, but feels cloying and sentimental, like a bad sitcom theme. 1985’s triple Grammy-winning Back In the High Life album struck a better balance between his blues roots and the kind of lucrative, expertly-tailored AOR contemporaries like Eric Clapton and Phil Collins were then making. The gospel-tinged Higher Love (featuring Chaka Khan) is fittingly ecstatic 80s blue-eyed soul, while the title-track, aided by James Taylor, is a movingly-optimistic midlife rumination, Winwood reaching pop maturity with a grace that eluded many of his contemporaries.

Dirty City, a slow-burning, bluesy jam with Clapton from 2008, rounds out the solo set, and finds Winwood’s fire commendably undimmed 40 years on. The four-CD box-set version of Revolutions examines his back-catalogue in great depth, but a simultaneously released 16-track single-CD package is faultless, racing through the highlights with the pace of a tightly-scripted Hollywood biopic.

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