Picks and Pans Review: The Finer Things
For the past three decades, Steve Winwood has made memorable stops all over the pop music map. This overstuffed but valuable retrospective ably tracks his travels. As lead singer with the Spencer Davis Group during the British Invasion of the mid-'60s, Winwood gave a British spin to the blue-eyed soul of the Righteous Brothers. (Songs like "Gimme Some Lovin' " and "I'm a Man" are still combustible.) At 18, he made his imprint on the psychedelic era when he formed the seminal progressive rock ensemble Traffic and delivered "Dear Mr. Fantasy" (several times a day it seemed on FM bands). Next, Winwood joined Eric Clapton, in 1969, as a quarter of the quintessential "supergroup," Blind Faith, and ushered in the age of stadium rock. After a 10-year detour as an austere, artistic solo performer, Winwood came back to great acclaim in 1986 with the soulful splendor of "Back in the High Life."
The music from all phases of Win-wood's career continues to resonate, due to his yearning, funky-choirboy vocals, felicitous writing and expressive arrangements. Yes, this four-CD set is excessive, but it would take more than excess to break the spell of this graceful and protean pop performer. (Island)