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Along with Brian Wilson and John Lennon, Steve Winwood is the artist who really helped me absorb the basic idioms and move on to other musical delights which I shamelessly neglected during my purist years.

In 1997 , Steve released his 7th solo album - aptly titled 'Junction 7' - and once again his vocal and instrumental skills appeared intact. Despite a somewhat serious decrease in quality of the songs over the past few years, this particular disc (which will be reviewed in full at a later date) was a complete delight from start to finish.

He's sure come a long way since 1963, when he joined The Spencer Davis R'n'B Quartet, soon to become The Spencer Davis Group. Remember their first single? A tremendous version of John Lee Hooker's 'Dimples' that gave goose bumps to any Blues and Beat lover. This was followed by a string of jewels such as 'I Can't Stand It', 'Strong Love', 'Goodbye Stevie', 'High Time Baby'and its irrepressible flip, 'Keep On Running', 'Somebody Help Me' and the final megahits, 'Gimme Some Lovin' and 'I'm A Man'. Steve could outsing any blues shouter or any R'n'B balladeer ; moreover, he was a monster piano, organ and guitar player - still in his teens !!

By 1967, he decided to try something new and incorporated other influences into his music (classical, psychedelic, folk). This led to the formation of one of the timeless bands of the '60s and '70s : Traffic.
Despite a somewhat cahotic line-up, this group proved to be truly innovative and, largely thanks to Steve, produced milestones like 'Paper Sun', '40,000 Headmen', 'Pearly Queen', 'Shangaï Noodle Factory', the haunting 'No Time To Live', then - after the Blind Faith episode - 'John Barleycorn', 'Empty Pages', 'Glad', the supernatural 'Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys', 'Rainmaker', 'Evening Blue', 'Roll Right Stones', 'When The Eagle Flies' and so many more - until the 1974 breakup which saw drummer/percussionist Jim Capaldi embark for good on a solo career.

However, after a couple of years spent on the farm and in the studio backing up other artists, Steve decided to start his own solo career ; the first LP was released in 1977 and contained some real fine stuff like 'Hold On', 'Time Is Running Out' and 'Midland Maniac'. It would be another 3 years before his next album was out - but it was well worth the wait. Everybody agrees to say that 'Arc Of A Diver' remains a high point of his career. The songs range from the catchy 'Spanish Dancer' to the funky, guitar-laden 'Night Train' to the complex 'Dust' to the delightfully disco-styled 'Second-Hand Woman'. Steve learned to play the drums for this album and used synthesizers extensively - the good news being that, like Brian Wilson or Stevie Wonder, he knows how to use them with taste. Now, would you believe that the best was yet to come ??


In 1982, the release of 'Talkin' Back To The Night' signaled Steve's definitive arrival at the top of the tree and this is the album on which I want to concentrate right now.

In the song 'Arc of A Diver', Steve had proclaimed that his 'Rock'n'Roll was putting on weight', therefore he managed to adapt to the ever-changing music scene - with gusto, skill and soul.
'Talkin' Back To The Night' comprises some of his most melodic and uplifting compositions. It was also a big departure from the previous outings since keyboards and synthesizers were the main instruments. It stirred up some controversy at the time - but still, that's why I love this disc so much : it's totally different in sound and production, but Steve didn't lose any of his powers in the process.

Talkin' Back To The Night'Valerie' opens the disc brightly ; it's the kind of infectious song you can't get out of your head once you've heard it. 'And I Go' is a beautiful R'n'B-tinged ballad, reminiscent of those '66-'67 soul ballads. 'While There's A Candle Burnin' is again well constructed with more interesting chord progressions - and another good set of words by Will Jennings.
I'll be forever moved by
'It Was Happiness', which contains masterful arrangements - deep, beautiful layers of sound. 'Help Me Angel' is typical Steve Winwood, his burning voice well to the fore and featuring one of his most powerful synth solos (along with the one he takes in 'Valerie').

And then, there's
'Talkin' Back To The Night' ... a mesmerizing tale of both despair and hope, sung and played with warmth and meaning, and full of incredible keyboard stylings - courtesy of Steve of course, who played all the instruments here.

This album was a labor of love and talent. Steve went on to record other great discs -
'Back In The High Life' in 1986, 'Roll With It' in 1988, 'Junction 7' - but I think this one is totally satisfying in every possible way. It has joined The Beach Boys' 'Friends', Gene Vincent's 'Record Date', Elvis's 'Elvis Is Back', The Band's 'Stage Fright', Joe Maphis's 'King Of The Strings' (on Starday), Steely Dan's 'Aja', Robert Gordon's 'Are You Gonna Be The One', Eddie Cochran's 'Cherished Memories', The Beatles' 'White Album', Lee Morgan's 'The Sidewinder' and many others on my Desert Island record list - now, that's saying something !!!

Last but not least, be sure to grab Mobile Fidelity's Gold CD of Steve's 'Talkin' Back To The Night' (UDCD 674) to get the best sonic incarnation of that timeless album.

© Copyright Paul Vidal * Privas, France * 1998