by Simon Way
You might have to be a Brit baby boomer like me to understand the excitement over Steve Winwood's work, About Time. Winwood released the album through Wincraft Records, which he has newly formed in collaboration with his Nashville songwriter wife, Eugenia, whom he thanks in the liner notes for "standing by me through thick and thin and for making everything happen." Much of the disc was recorded live, and it contains nothing less than 70 minutes of some of his best music ever. It marks Winwood's 40th anniversary as a musician. In 1963, at age 15, he joined with Spencer Davis in Birmingham, England, to form the Spencer Davis Group. With Traffic, he became a jazz-rock pioneer, influencing Billy Joel, Blood Sweat and Tears and many others.
Winwood at 55 is still very much alive and kickin' -- actually "kickin' the B" (Hammond organ slang for playing bass with your feet on the B3). Sizzling Hammond sounds plus Steve's compelling voice, spiced with energetic Cuban-rock drums/percussion from Walfredo Reyes and uniquely creative guitar work from Brazilian Jose Neto make this album a delight. Karl Denson adds great sax and flute textures. Does anyone do it better? This synergy of soul and Latin jazz enhances Winwood's soaring voice with its unique sonority that first appeared on 1966's white-hot "Gimme Some Lovin'."
"Different Light" has a Latin groove with searching lyrics ("No longer certain of my destiny / escaping my reality") and is the perfect opener for this cohesive collection. "Now That You're Alive'" is anti-drugs: "You justify / what you've self-prescribed." "Domingo Morning" states "Fortune, you have shone on me / have found a place where I can be free," hinting at the freedom and honesty Winwood now revels in via his own record company. "Final Hour" riffs and pulses, showing thoughts of his children, "Young voices filling up my life / teaching what has been taught to me / what I've been put here to do -- holding on to what my Father said."
"Cigano," "Phoenix Rising" and "Bully" continue that with solid grooves and jamming. "Live Together" cries for peace. Winwood's British midlands accent even appears in some spoken parts. And guitarist Neto shines on "Horizon" and the epic "Sylvia," which closes out this 11-song masterpiece.
Publication date: 09/04/03