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.