Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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CD reviews: Steve Winwood heads off in new direction, with good effect

Winwood has over his long career been associated with landmark and legendary bands - the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, and Blind Faith - and enjoyed a successful solo career. He invested his music with not only a remarkable and signature vocal style, but the sound of the Hammond B-3 organ.

And it is that instrument which is at the forefront of his latest solo disc, released on his own label, on which world beat and rock influences combine. With a core band of Jose Neto on guitar and Walfredo Reyes, Jr., on drums, plus guest musicians on flute, saxophone, and percussion, Winwood recorded the CD live in the studio.

The disc's 11 tracks, all but one written or co-written by Winwood, kick off in vibrant, Latin-tinged, and percussive style with “Different Light,” the B-3 prominent in the mix and Winwood in great voice. On “Cigano (For The Gypsies)” rock and world influences co-exist, the song starting and ending as a rocker with a subtly funky edge, but with the mid-portion taking on a Brazilian beat.

Winwood gives the disc balance by mixing other vibrant and rhythmic pieces with slower cuts such as “Final Hour” and the compelling ballad “Horizon,” that features a strong melody and perhaps his best vocal performance.

“About Time” signals a productive and exciting new musical direction for Winwood.


The Eels are back with a disc's worth of oddball characters, lovable losers, and more pop hooks than a Beatles tribute band. The band is essentially a vehicle for Mark Oliver Everett, also known as “E,” who wrote and arranged all the songs and produced the disc. E has a remarkable knack for bright melodies that are tempered with his worn voice and tilted view of the world. He writes mature pop songs with dark circles under their eyes.


Vincent, an incredibly talented mandolin player and singer, performs a truly fine package of 12 bluegrass songs, all deeply rooted in traditional sounds, but fresh and very modern-feeling. The instrumental work by Vincent and others is positively dazzling, as the fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and banjo are all handled with amazing dexterity. The songs run the gamut from spicy pickin' grass to wistful ballads, most with Vincent's sweet, twangy voice leading the way.


When you take the rock music of Beck Hansen, the soul jazz organ of Dr. Lonnie Smith, and the tenor saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman, it's hard to figure out how the results might not be totally electrifying. But that seems to be what's happening on this latest tribute album. When arranged by guitarist Doug Munro, the soul gives way to smoothness and the bite usually associated with this style of jazz is missing.


This soundtrack is Oscar-nominated composer Thomas Newman's first score for an animated feature film. Unfortunately, it shows. It's technically fine with its near-classical grace and ebullient flow. But the overall product is flat, because it fails to grab listeners with a special magical quality and spark found in the soundtracks to other Pixar films, such as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc.



  • THE ESSENTIAL BYRDS, The Byrds (Columbia/Legacy) From “Mr. Tambourine Man” to “Farther Along,” from psychedelic to country rock, this two-disc set features 33 tracks of the very best of the Byrds. Classic songs from a seminal band, and definitely essential. R.P.

  • IN THE BEGINNING, Townes Van Zandt (Compadre) These 10 numbers were demos done before Van Zandt's first commercial release in 1966. They clearly show the potential for the status of songwriting genius that the late Texas troubadour would earn. Some are done with a band, others solo, but all are very, very good. K.R.

  • NYANA, mixed by Tiesto (Nettwerk America) Award-winning DJ Tiesto expertly mixes a two-CD set of trance, progressive, and techno. The sound is harder on the first disc and more melodic, though still packed with muscular rhythms, on the second. R.P.

  • MORE CONVERSATIONS IN SWING GUITAR, Duke Robillard and Herb Ellis (Stony Plain) This album of jazz interplay between two guitar masters is a follow-up to the highly successful 1999 release. Top artists from the blues and jazz camps trade chops, with some mighty sweet and melodic results. K.R.

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