Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]
Artist: STEVE WINWOOD
Album: BACK IN THE HIGH LIFE
The summer of 1986 was soundtracked by several key albums for me, with two of them seeming to go hand-in-hand: Peter Gabriel’s So (which I wrote about last week) and Steve Winwood’s Back In The High Life. At the time I found a lot of similarities between them, including the vocal performances, incredible musicianship and their sonic landscapes, both of which featured some typical ‘80s sounds without being over-the-top like so many albums of that era. With fresh ears thirty years later I don’t hear as many commonalities, as Winwood’s record is packed with radio-friendly songs while Gabriel’s was an art-rock album that happened to have a couple of huge hit singles. This is not meant to disparage Winwood since Back In The High Life is close to a masterpiece, taking everything that was great about his two previous solo albums (catchy melodies and that glorious, soulful voice) and beefing up the sound with killer instrumental work and guest vocalists like Chaka Khan (on the #1 single “Higher Love”), James Taylor (on “Back In The High Life Again”) and James Ingram & Dan Hartman (on the Top 10 hit “The Finer Things”). The aforementioned tracks received plenty of airplay throughout ’86 and into ’87, as did “Freedom Overspill,” “Split Decision” and “Take It As It Comes.” The wistful album closer “My Love’s Leavin’” has long been a personal favorite. If I have any criticism of Back In The High Life it’s the running times of the songs, with nothing shorter than 5 minutes and a few approaching 6 minutes. I’m a big fan of Winwood’s work with Traffic and Blind Faith, both of which featured lengthy tracks, but some of these songs would have been just as strong at 4 minutes or less. As I said, this is a minor complaint, and I think it still sounds great 30 years later. There are many reasons it received all those Grammy nominations (and won three of them). If you haven’t played it in a while, give it a spin and you’ll be back in the high life too.