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Winwood makes the old sound new

Orpheum Theatre, Boston, April 27, 2017

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Steve Winwood may not have released an album since 2009 - and that was a live album with Eric Clapton - and no new material in almost 9 years ("Nine Lives"). So at this point, one might consider Winwood, 68, more of an oldies act than anything else. Given that his pedigree includes membership in The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith and that he mines his musical past, that wouldn't be a stretch.

At some level in the live setting, that was doubtlessly true, but the fact was that Winwood remains a formidable musician and singer with an exquisite Latin-oriented band that served him well. Yet, the bluesy, soulful quality sepia to his sound remained intact as well.

Winwood's high-pitched tenor has been his calling card. And it just doesn't seem to have changed all that much even since it first came out in 1966 with The Spencer Davis Group. Perhaps Winwood doesn't quite attempt all the high notes, and his voice have smoothed out some, but he has obviously taken great care of his vocals.

Winwood was at his best on such songs as Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home" and Traffic's "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" and "Dear Mr. Fantasy." Yes, they are chronologically old, but Winwood had no difficulties making them sound fresh.

Winwood surrounded himself with at least several musicians with whom he has played for years - Richard Bailey on drums and Jose Neto on guitar along with Edwin Sanz on percussion and Paul Booth on sax. Neto and Sanz, in particular, gave a Latin flavor to the songs, something perhaps not as apparent on the original recordings.

Just as was apparent with his previous bands, Winwood placed his faith in his band by letting them play the songs to their natural conclusions. No need to hog the spotlight by Winwood with such a talented group behind him.

Winwood's daughter, Lily, provided backing vocals on a few songs. She opened the night solo acoustic with a set of singer/songwriter type songs. Winwood has a nice voice, although her set would probably have been more suited for a listening room than a theatre.

Steve Winwood has a new album coming out this fall, which will be a live recording made two years ago. Shows like this make you wish for new material because Winwood seems up to the task, but if forced to settle for his past, that's not such a bad thing either.



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