People:
Review of Roll With It
July 18, 1988

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Quite out of the blue two years ago, Steve Winwood, at 38, delivered the finest album of his long career, an enchanted piece of work entitled Back in the High Life. You can hardly blame him for trying to duplicate it by bringing back lyricist Will Jennings and engineer-mixer Tom Lord Alge to help out here. For 2 hefty, swaggering songs, the title track and "Holding On", it seems as if Winwood were going to succeed in cloning his masterpiece. However, the deeper you venture into Roll With It, the more the resembalnce to High Life fades. The mood is rougher and bluesier, the arrangements a little flabbier and a lot less focused. There is, of course, one enormous compensatory factor: Winwood's seductive voice. Pop music has rarely had an instrument like this, so piercing and soothing at the same time. Like Cleopatra in Shakespeare's description, his singing makes hungry where it most satisfies. Nonetheless, this album has to be regarded as a disappointment. If in Back in the High Life Winwood had stumbled onto some paradisiacal field, on Roll With It it's as if he had decided to start putting up rows of condos all over that plot. Welcome to Winwood Village. Some of the structures, like "Shining Song", are quite handsome. But the air around it is thick with the crass odor of commerce.

-- David Hiltbrand

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Last updated September 16, 1998.
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