Steve Winwood, like his buddy and frequent collaborator Eric Clapton, is an artist who can elicit shivers of delight and groans of dismay within the space of mere minutes. Like Clapton, he has a prodigious gift -- in this case, his marvelously supple, soaring voice. But he can just as easily squander it in cheesy pop settings or meandering jazz-lite snoozefests. So this Greatest Hits package, out June 15th, might be as far as most casual fans need to go. The 4-CD box set, released at the same time, is there for the devoted fanbase. But for me -- and, I suspect, for many others -- the single disc will suffice quite nicely.
And, as these things go, it's just about a perfect collection. The man has been recording since the mid-'60s now, and if he only releases a genuine masterpiece every five or six years or so, that still means that he has released a body of work that can stand with anyone in the rock 'n roll pantheon. All phases of Winwood's career are represented here, from the the great early singles with The Spencer Davis Group ("I'm a Man," "Gimme Some Lovin'") through the first collaboration with Clapton in Blind Faith ("Can't Find My Way Home"), through the best of the '70s Traffic albums ("Dear Mr. Fantasy," "Glad," "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys") through the slick synth pop of the '80s and beyond ("When You See a Chance," "Higher Love," "Back in the High Life," "Roll With It"). There's a generous 17 tracks and almost 80 minutes here, and not a minute is wasted. That's not exactly a claim that can be made about the career as a whole. In terms of the scope of the material and the overarching career overview, Winwood has never been better served. If you're only going to seek out one disc, this is the one to get.