Steve Winwood must have heard the complaints from critics and old fans about his last two albums: While they established him as a GQ-perfect yuppie balladeer, they didn’t have the hippie-glazed allure of his work with Traffic and Blind Faith. So, to open Refugees of the Heart, he’s thrown mud in the skeptics’ eyes. With its meandering piano and sax lines and zoned-out tempo, the first track, ”You’ll Keep on Searching,” has the feel of Traffic’s FM anthem ”The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” down cold — making it, in the context of a Winwood solo album, mildly compelling. Otherwise, this tasteful and exquisitely boring record is merely another exercise in rock professionalism; it’s like being trapped in an hour-long TV commercial for an after-work singles bar. Refugees traffics in the same dreary white-guy R&B of its predecessor, Roll With It, replete with bland lyrics (”Love will save us after all”), dabs of ersatz blues (”Another Deal Goes Down”), and a shot of ”soul” (”Come Out and Dance”) so dull that it’s amazing his band stayed awake during the sessions.
Not quite rock & roll, not quite Neil Diamond, Refugees of the Heart is a wax museum of classic-rock nostalgia whose main purpose is to transport listeners to a place where everybody knows their name. C-