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POP MUSIC | RECORD RACK

** STEVE WINWOOD, "Junction Seven," Virgin

June 01, 1997|Natalie Nichols and Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four (excellent). and Hear the Music and * Excerpts from these albums and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/soundclips

The function at Steve Winwood's "Junction" is relentlessly jubilant and romantic, but the songs on his seventh solo album aren't much to celebrate.

Aided by longtime collaborator Jim Capaldi, plus such guests as Lenny Kravitz and Chic co-founder Nile Rodgers, the British R&B-pop veteran delivers some powerful guitar and organ licks on 11 sprawling tracks. They include an appropriately Chic-esque rendition of Sly & the Family Stone's "Family Affair," dedicated to Rodgers' late partner Bernard Edwards.

The playing is spirited throughout this collection of percussive funk-pop, smooth ballads and Cuban-flavored dance numbers, yet the tunes lack even the faintly memorable hooks of such Winwood hits as "Roll With It" and "While You See a Chance."

The formidable sonic steamroller of guitar, keyboards, horns, strings, backing vocals and percussion frequently just flattens the trifling lyrics. The smolder of "Plenty Lovin'," an anticipatory duet with Des'ree, is snuffed out by all the synthesized fairy dust. Such upbeat party tracks as "Just Wanna Have Some Fun" fare better, but the groove wears thin, and the fun goes on a bit too long.

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