***STEVE WINWOOD. "Roll With It." Virgin.
In 1986, English singer Steve Winwood made "Back in the High Life," arguably the best R&B album by a white singer in the last five years--at least until George Michael surpassed it with his glorious "Faith."
Winwood's new album, "Roll With it," is in the same lofty league as "Back in the High Life." The new one also features medium-tempo, funky R&B numbers and slow, tension-packed, gospel-like ballads. Though he doesn't really explore new territory, he covers old ground with admirable fervor.
At 40, Winwood still hasn't gotten over his desire to be Ray Charles. Good thing. Those searing Charles-like inflections still define Winwood's R&B/gospel style. He has always been a refined version of Charles. While he doesn't have Charles' unbridled power (who does?) Winwood does sing with a restrained passion that's carefully and cannily unleashed. Fans still speak reverently about Winwood's vocals in his Traffic days, which ended in 1974. But truth is, he's singing better now.