Winwood had developed a formula for success on his 1986 album “Back In The High Life”. Pop tinged with a Rhythm & Blues delivery and a crystal clear reflection of his musical roots and trenchant ideology in 60s black music. Songs like “Higher Love” and “Freedom Overspill”, were received well by critics and fans alike, and it’s most likely that this was due to the fact that the songs were basically strong, and Winwood perfectly mixed and balanced the Pop and R&B styles into a worthwhile satisfying sound.
For the follow up he looked to change the musical emphasis, writing Rhythm & Blues structures, and adding a polished pop sound throughout the production process. On listening to the opener and title track from the album “Roll With It”, one thinks he’s got it right. A slice of funk laced R&B with a hook that’s trapped smoothly in a latent Motown rhythm and makes for one of the best songs on show. Sadly, our hopes are dashed though, and the calculated gamble wears thin as the rest of the material on offer struggles to maintain ones’ interest in the project. Quite simply, the polished production sound thinly veils some pretty lacklustre songs, devoid of emotion, lacking the gritty edge that one would have hoped for from the normally soulful Winwood. Ironically, it’s when he breaks from the uptempo numbers, and attempts Gospel styled ballads, that there is a definite return to form. When the instrumentation is broken down to just keyboards and rhythm, Winwood’s vocals come to the fore, and “The Morning Side”, “Don’t You Know”, and “One More Morning” seem to confirm that he doesn’t need to get a full band sound and polished horn arrangement to attain a kind of stylised, radio friendly Soul sound. He can succeed just as well with a simple melody and his passionate vocals to grab the listeners’ attention.
“Roll With It” could have been style before substance. It could also have been a better album. It works best when Winwood relies on his own musical abilities, and if only he had scaled the album down to bring the emotive forces everybody knows he’s got in spades this would have been a better collection.
1 Roll With It 5:20
2 Holding On 6:16
3 The Morning Side 5:14
4 Put on Your Dancing Shoes 5:13
5 Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do? 6:55
6 Hearts on Fire 5:17
7 One More Morning 5:00
8 Shining Song 5:29
Roll With It