** 1/2 STEVE WINWOOD "Refugees of the Heart" Virgin
Halfway through Winwood's latest album, you might find yourself asking, "Haven't I heard this somewhere before?"
You bet--on his last two albums. His new songs, nearly all co-written with Will Jennings, seem like outtakes from the last sessions.
Stylistically, it's the same old Winwood, with the medium-tempo and slow-burning funk tunes echoing '60s Motown and the reverential, gospel-like ballads. But something is missing this time. Vocally, this isn't the same Winwood--there's not as much spark or variety. Covering old ground is fine as long as you do it with conviction, zeal and some imagination. Understandably, he sounds as if he really couldn't get worked up about these songs.
Originality has never been Winwood's strength. On his last two albums, he didn't break any new ground either, but most of the songs were compelling. But when the songs aren't up to his usual high standard ("Come Out and Dance" is a just a copy of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer"), his rehashing is much more noticeable.
This isn't a bad album, just inferior to the last two. It's as if Winwood had been vigorously running in place and finally succumbed to fatigue.