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Steve Winwood

The wind howls around the stone walls of the century's old country barn turned modern recording studio in a particularly idyllic patch of the rolling Cotswold hills in the English midlands. It's quite the place to make a life, which is exactly what Steve Winwood did, having owned the facility for decades. And as such, it was a terrific place to make Nine Lives, a wide-reaching and captivating album that further enhances one of the most distinctive and cherished legacies in pop music recorded in the picturesque, inspiring setting.

Nine Lives touches on and expands on all the many phases and turns of Winwood's lustrous career, bristling with his pure joy of music-making. The new songs range from the inspiring "Fly" to the burning "Dirty City" (featuring a guest appearance by long-time friend Eric Clapton, hot on the heels of their acclaimed Madison Square Garden concerts together) to the simmering "Hungry Man." And they join a canon spanning more than forty years and including some of the most beloved songs of modern pop and rock: With his signature work with the Spencer Davis Group ("Gimme Some Lovin' ") to Traffic ("Dear Mr. Fantasy," "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys"), Blind Faith ("Can't Find My Way Home") and thirty years of solo ventures ("Higher Love," "Roll With It"), Winwood continues creating an era-bridging soundtrack of distinctive artistry.

Nine Lives brings to the fore the many facets of Winwood's vision, his pioneering explorations of rock, R&B, African, Latin American and jazz styles, blended into concoctions as unique and recognizable as the musicians' great gifts on guitar and keyboards (particularly the Hammond B3 organ, with him providing all the album's bass parts via the organ's pedals) and, of course, a voice instantly recognizable for its power and emotion. Created through a vital new writing partnership with lyricist Peter Godwin and on some songs guitarist Jose Neto and benefiting from the sparkling playing of his road-tested band, the album furthers the vibrant feeling of his last album, 2003's About Time, itself building on some of his greatest music of the past.

Don't, though, assume the title is a literal reference to the multiple stages of Winwood's career or approaches to music. It's actually more straightforward than that.

"Well," he laughs cheerfully, "Nine Lives is quite simply my ninth album, and there are nine songs on it. So it's really no more complicated than that. Each song has a life of its own. It's the opposite of a concept album - it's a book of short stories rather than a novel."

That said, he gleefully draws on all the musical lives he's led for this album, while looking for new ingredients and combinations.

"It's a bit like a celebrity chef adding unusual flavors that people don't usually expect," he says. "It's something I've always tried to do consciously, right from early Traffic days where we used elements of African music, English folk music, rock, jazz. I just try to balance it out, because to me they're flavors that taken all together create the whole dish."

But it's very much a team process, from the writing to arranging, unfolding and growing between the group members in this fertile setting. Brazilian native Neto, who has played with Airto Moriera and Flora Purim, has been a key member of Winwood's band since the About Time sessions. Drummer Richard Bailey, born in Guyana, has a long list of credits including Jeff Beck and Bob Marley. Karl Vanden Bossche also returns to add a variety of global percussion. And London-based Paul Booth brings distinctive colors to the group with sax and flute. Road tested and finely attuned to each other's vast skills and range, the ensemble was able to work in a way that Winwood says has been behind much of the most rewarding music he's made from the Traffic days on out.

"This is very much a working band," he says. "They don't just come in with a brief to play the song. A lot of the songs were created out of jams, and we were playing a lot of small shows last year, some clubs around England, and it was a great way to get to play and a lot of the songs came out of things we'd been playing together. The playing is a lot more integrated with the writing on this compared to About Time."

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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Seasons: The Island...

Cherry Red Records
2022

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Greatest Hits Live

Wincraft Records
2017

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Nine Lives

Columbia Records
2008

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About Time

Wincraft Music
2003

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Refugees of the Heart

Virgin Records
1990

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