STEVIE WINWOOD ``Back in the High Life'' (Island 1-25548) -- Winwood is a veteran British soulster (Traffic, Blind Faith) who evokes feeling and nuance in phrases most singers take for granted. If it weren't for spotty moments -- in ``Wake Me Up on Judgment Day'' and ``Take It as It Comes,'' for instance -- this might be the record of the year. ``Higher Love'' has already proven a durable dance groove despite its sexist video, and Winwood's duet with James Taylor on ``Back in the High Life Again'' is appealing. Winwood's tasty keyboards throughout prove that technology need not hinder emotion. -- Tim Riley THE MEAT PUPPETS
``Out of My Way'' (SST 049) -- This Arizona trio has long deserved major-label status. Now this six-song EP confirms earlier promise. Guitarist Curt Kirkwood and bassist Cris Kirkwood write songs together and separately, and Derrick Bostrom provides hard-edged but evocative drumming. They evoke western psychedelia, as though Neil Young's ``Crazy Horse'' were reincarnated as new wave's Television. -- T. R. CULTURE CLUB
``From Luxury to Heartache'' (Epic Records: OE 40345) -- This crisp, pulsating album rocks like Culture Club has never rocked before. It's got a synthetic, high-gloss smoothness and a rigorous, unvarying beat. Fine songs like ``Move Away'' and ``Work on Me Baby'' race by with metronome precision -- until ``Come Clean'' on the flip side. The tempo slows, finally, for this superb, tuneful love song. ``Heartache'' is pretty good, but Culture Club once had a multi-flavored pop sound that's missed here.
-- David Hugh Smith DAVE VALENTIN
``Light Struck'' (GRP-A-1028) -- Valentin has brought the flute into the arena of high-energy jazz/Latin/rock. He's electrifying in person, spinning breathtaking spells with his flute and pipes of pan, and using electronic effects. Unfortunately, he hasn't captured the magic yet on vinyl. Although this album contains some fine writing and playing, and the backup band is top rate, the overall effect isn't representative of Valentin's work. -- Amy Duncan STEPS AHEAD
``Magnetic'' (Elektra 60441-1) -- Steps Ahead has gradually changed from a forward-looking acoustic band to an electric-fusion group. ``Magnetic'' is an unpredictable mix of funk, rock, and electronic exploration that ranges from spooky dissonances to fast bop lines. Mike Mainieri has synthesized his vibes, and Michael Brecker plays not only his tenor sax, but a wind-driven synthesizer -- A. D. STEVE KUJALA
``Fresh Flute'' (CBS BFM 42097) -- Flutist Kujala calls his music ``popzzical,'' a blend of pop, jazz, and classical music. On this first solo album (Kujala has worked on and off with Chick Corea for six years), he has used synthesizers and as many as 126 flute overdubbings to create a ``flute orchestra.'' The music is playful and melodic, and Kujala's glissandos and percussive key clicks add a nice touch. -- A. D.