Rolling Stone:
Review of Roll With It
June 30, 1988

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Winwood on a "Roll"
First new album and single since 1986 mark his Virgin Records debut

Roll With It, Steve Winwood's first album of new music since his 1986 multiplatinum release Back in the High Life, hits the stores late this month. The title track of the album was released as a single in May, and Winwood kicks off a two-month tour of the United States on July 7.

Produced by Winwood and Tom Lord Alge - who helped engineer Back in the High Life - Roll With It was recorded in Dublin and Toronto and picks up where the preceding album left off. "Back in the High Life was a very successful album," Winwood says, "and we wanted to use various elements that we used on it." As on his previous solo outings, Winwood handles the lion's share of the instruments on Roll With It; key-boardists Robby Kilgore and Mike Lawer and drummers John Robinson and Jimmy Bralower appear as sidemen.

One notable departure is the album's standout title track - a paean to Sixties R&B - featuring trumpeter Wayne Jackson and saxophonist Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns, who played on many classic Stax rcordings in the Sixties. "I think 'Roll With It' harks back to the music that I was listening to when I grew up and when I started playing music," Winwood says. "It's probably more like the kind of thing that I might have done with Spencer Davis." Winwood credits his recent move to Nashville, where he now lives, with rekindling his interest in his own musical roots. "Nashville's generally known for its country music," he says. "But a lot of these [rhythm and blues] people are down there, and I started to explore and understand more of the history of American music and of soul and Sixties horn music."

Roll With It represents another departure for Winwood. Now 40 years old, he had recorded for Island Records since 1967, first with Traffic and later as a solo artist. The 20-year association was one of the longest in rock history, and his relationship with the label's owner, Chris Blackwell, dates back to 1964, when Blackwell managed the Spencer Davis Group, with which Winwood made his recording debut. The new album is Winwood's first under a new and very lucrative contract with the fledgling Virgin Records America label - reports have placed its value as high as $12 million - and the company has clearly been banking on Winwood to help put it on the map. But Winwood says he feels no undue pressure from his new label or nostalgia for his former outfit. "There are lots of pressures, and of course that's one," he says of his new contract. "There's also the pressure of following up a successful album. But I don't think it does good to dwell too much on those kinds of things. When I left Island, it wasn't just that I was keen to leave. I wanted to have a look around and see what other record companies could do for me, and I felt Virgin was going to be better for me thatn island. But Island was never excluded directly. It's kind of like changing insurance companies. That's a bit of a joke, but it's not that dissimilar."

Since releasing Back in the High Life, Winwood has managed to stay on the pop charts with a couple of singles culled from Chronicles, the 1987 greatest-hits package that satisfied his contract with Isalnd. One of the singles from Chronicles was "Valerie", which became a surprise hit after it was resurrected from the 1982 album Talking Back to the Night (the title track of Talking Back to the Night was also released as a single).

The singles from Chronicles - coupled with the 4 hits produced by Back in the High Life ("Higher Love", "Freedom Overspill", "The Finer Things", and "Back in the High Life Again") - have made Winwood one of the hottest hands on the music scene. They have also raised the specter of overexposure for the first time in Winwood's career, a problem that could be compounded by Winwood's admitted attempt to make Roll With It sound like Back in the High Life. "I'm a great disbeliever in overexposure," Winwood says. "But I don't think I'm at the point of having to really worry about it. I'm very happy about the success."

-- Fred Goodman

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Page created September 17, 1998.
Last updated September 17, 1998.
© 1998 by the author; reproduce only for non-commercial purposes and with full attribution.