After recording the Traffic album “Far From Home” Steve Winwood returned to his solo career with this much maligned 1997 offering “Junction Seven”. Being Winwood’s seventh solo album and the M6 motorway junction for his hometown of Birmingham it is very cleverly named even if the cover art shows him standing on a railway line rather than a Motorway !
The album itself was produced by Narada Michael Walden and had a very different sound to most of Winwood’s previous albums. This was not something which long time Winwood fans were overly pleased about and the consensus of opinion amongst them is that it would have been better billed as a combined Winwood/Walden album. Personally my only real gripe with it is the drum sound. There is far too much drum programming and not enough ‘real life’ drumming.
Opening track ‘Spy In The House Of Love’ is a funky fast paced song with a catchy beat and an infectious chorus. It maybe gets a little repatitive towards the end but it is still a great funky opener with some nice solos and benefits from having at least some live drum sound. ‘Angel Of Mercy’ is a slower gospel type track with a nice harmonious intro and a great chorus. Winwood also contributes some nice Hammond organ work and a great wah wah solo. For me it is one of the best tracks on the album and is up there with the best of Winwood’s solo offerings. Like the opener and several other tracks on the album it was co-written by Winwood, Walden and old Traffic cohort Jim Capaldi. Quite why Capaldi wasn’t asked to contribute drums to the album is beyond me. ‘Just Wanna Have Some Fun’ ups the tempo again and is a jazzy funky track with good bass and a nice clavinet sound. Winwood plays a nice synthesised sax solo and the track makes great use of horns and backing vocals to give it a real good time feel. ‘Let Your Love Come Down’ is another slower song with a bass intro and features Lenny Kravitz on guitar. It’s a bit too long for me and is slightly inferior to the opening three tracks. ‘Real Love’ is a very slow ballad which features a full blown string arrangement but it is far too chocolate boxey for me although Winwood does sing it well. It is the first of four tracks on the album that Winwood co-wrote with his wife Eugenia. ‘Fill Me Up’ takes us back to the uptempo jazzy stuff and is another nice track with a funky bass line and a quirky chorus. Dobro guitar from Mike McEvoy and backing vocals from Ruby Turner help to lift it above the ordinary. Things really pick up again though for ‘Got To Get Back To My Baby’ a very fast and upbeat track. The calypso feel and the clever use of horns make it a real feel good tune. The use of real drums and Ruby Turner’s reappearance on backing vocals both help to make it one of the highlights. ‘Someone Like You’ is another slower ballad type love song and once again veers just a little too much into the world of syrupy first dance at a wedding territory for me. It is not a badly composed or performed song though, it is just arranged without any great imagination and the over use of programming ruins what could have been a far better track. For me it is clearly the low point on the album although I daresay many will have a different opinion entirely.
The highpoint of the album for me follows in the shape of ‘Family Affair’, a cover of the Sly and Family Stone chart topping hit of 1971. It is reasonably true to original spirit of song and the live drums once again make a huge difference. A live string section, some more great backing vocals and Nile Rogers on guitar all help to make it a thoroughly enjoyable five minutes and along with the earlier ‘Angel Of Mercy’ well worth the price of admission. ‘Plenty Lovin’ sees Des’ree come in to share lead vocal duties with Winwood and Jose Netto plays a pleasant guitar solo. Overall it is a nice song with its string arrangement and nylon string guitar sound but it meanders a bit for me and the Des’ree vocal just takes it a little bit to far into that modern day R & B dance music sound for comfort. The album ends with ‘Lord Of The Street’ another uptempo song typical of the albums sound with its strong bass and jerky riff.
“Junction Seven” was released in June 1997 and as I stated earlier did not meet with great approval from either Winwood’s fan base or the record buying public in general. For most it is regarded as the red herring or the weak link in his solo output. I take a completely opposing view though and consider it to be one of his most enjoyable solo albums. The classic Winwood sound and voice is there and it is an album well worth persevering with despite the over use of programming and the, at times, over bearing influence of Walden.
© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM July 2011