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THE VAULTS / CD REISSUES : Winwood Set: Too Much Space to Post-'81 : STEVE WINWOOD "the finer things", Island ** 1/2

March 31, 1995|Dennis Hunt

Most of this stylishly designed four-disc retrospective is devoted to Winwood's early years when he was a member of the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith. Back then, Winwood--who writes, sings and plays keyboards--was capable of some exceptional music, mixing jazz, soul and rock with raw, electric blues.

Unfortunately, Winwood didn't always live up to his potential. For every superb moment--such as the folkish "John Barleycorn Must Die" with Traffic in 1970, there was mediocrity. This package would have been stronger if it had left off some of the low spots--especially the late Traffic days--in favor of more than just five tracks each from "Barleycorn" and his 1980 solo album "Arc of a Diver."

Winwood's post-1981 music is confined to just half of one disc--but it's still too much. Except for 1986's Grammy-winning single "Higher Love," there's little worthwhile. In the mid-'80s, Winwood turned into a slick, commercially oriented pop-rocker, with that low-down Ray-Charles-like edge nearly disappearing from his voice.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (e ssential ).

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