Monday, 3 June 2019

Chris Rea


 

Middlesbrough's finest, Chris Rea, has had a strange, but long career. It took him album after album to achieve any sort of success at all. He didn't fit in with punk or new wave, he was no post punker or new romantic either. He achieved his first real commercial success as a Springsteen-esque type artist on Shamrock Diaries and then went on to conquer the "adult/AOR/wine bar" market in the late eighties/early nineties, with his laid-back, summery, melodic balladry topped off with his Napoleon brandy-warm voice. For years he was perceived as that type of artist, and earned precious little respect, which was a shame, because make no mistake the lad could play a mean guitar and had a knack for a sad song.






















As the nineties progressed and in to the new millennium  Rea reinvented himself as a bluesman, digging deeper and deeper into his lifelong love of the blues. After becoming seriously ill, he produced his meisterwerk in 2005's behemoth box set, Blue Guitars. If that didn't gain him kudos I seriously don't know what could. It is a truly phenomenal piece of work.

It seems he is now a well thought-of elder statesman, his live gigs are full of people who appear even older than me (I was born in late 1958) so the whole blues thing has proved really successful for him.

THE EARLY YEARS (1978-1983)



Whatever Happened To Benny Santini? (1978)


Whatever Happened To Benny Santini?/The Closer You Get/Because Of You/Dancing With Charlie/Bows And Bangles/Fool (If You Think It's Over)/Three Angels/Just One Of Those Days/Standing In Your Doorway/Fires Of Spring                            

This was a strange album. It was the previously unknown Chris Rea's debut and was released into the cultural upheaval of punk and new wave. Musically, it really had no place and neither did Rea's decidedly non-punk/new wave/post punk appearance. He poses on the cover in a multi-coloured scarf looking very boy next door and unthreatening. He was neither a punk nor a Costello/Dury-style anti-hero. The music was actually quite an appealing mix of Jackson Browne/Eagles American-influenced rock with a vague country/West Coast air to it. As you can see - totally at odds with anything coming out of the UK at the time. Unsurprisingly the album and its big hit single, Fool (If You Think It's Over) were far more successful in the US than the UK. An album like this would have meant nothing in the UK in April 1978.
       
Whatever Happened To Benny Santini? is a very Eagles-esque track, with hints of John Mellencamp in its riffiness. Incidentally, "Benny Santini" was one of the names Rea's record company wanted him to change his name to. Full of excellent driving, roadhouse guitar and wailing saxophone, it is an excellent track. A Stonesy riff introduces the mid-pace rock of The Closer You Get. This is all very rock in its feel, not much of the blues that Rea would dip into on so much in his later career. The eventually to be trademark slide guitar makes its first appearance on this track, though, to great effect. Because Of You is a gentle, summery pop ballad, highlighted again by the fact that Rea could clearly play a mean guitar.

Dancing With Charlie has more killer guitar and more Eagles vibe, with a bit of Doobie Brothers thrown in. It sounds very much like a song referencing increasing cocaine habits, particularly among the rich and famous, but whether "Charlie" was used as a term in 1978, I am not sure. Bows And Bangles has Rea sound very much like Don Henley on its US style vocal. Listening to this you would think Rea was American, not from Middlesbrough.

Fool (If You Think It' Over) is now one of Rea's best known songs. He has since re-recorded it and it has better sound than the somewhat light, tinny one that it as here. It still has an infectious, easy-listening appeal, however, even in this incarnation. Rea's voice sounds more British on this one. It was covered successfully by Elkie Brooks.

Three Angels is a rousing, riffy rocker with some great guitar and a solid bass line underpinning it. Just One Of Those Days is very country rock with that Don Henley voice back again. Standing In Your Doorway is a hidden gem of a melodic West Coast meets Tex-Mex song. It has the first strains of the material Rea would visit on his Blue Guitars project, particularly in his Texas Blues section it. It features a Tex-Mex-style accordion. Fires Of Spring is an appealing, solid rocker to end on. It really reminds of something but I can't put my finger on it.

I didn't have any time for anything like this in 1978, but in retrospect, it is a pretty good first offering. The sound on it is unremastered, however, and is a bit indistinct, but it is still listenable.

Deltics (1979)


Twisted Wheel/The Things Lovers Should Do/Dance! (Don't Think)/Raincoat And A Rose/Cenotaph/Letter From Amsterdam/Deltics/Diamonds/She Gave It Away/Don't Want Your Best Friend/No Qualifications/Seabird                

This was another culturally irrelevant, "as if punk never happened" out of time release from Chris Rea. An Elton John influence pervades the album and, although pleasant enough, suffers from a muffled, unclear, unremastered sound (you really have to turn it up to get any oomph). It made little impact, and the cover was awful. Just what are you wearing, Chris?

As Twisted Wheel's piano intro kicks in, and the Rea's vocal, you would be forgiven for thinking you were listening to Elton John. Everything about it screams Elton, particularly Part Time Love. The album was produced by Gus Dudgeon who worked with Elton John in the seventies, so this influence is hardly surprising. By the way, is Rea referring to Manchester's legendary Northern Soul night club in the tile? Probably. The Things That Lovers Should Do has some of that laid-back bluesy feel and guitar that Rea would come to specialise in. It has hints of Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel in it, particularly in its Spectoresque Say Goodbye To Hollywood drumbeat in places. Dance! (Don't Think) is another Elton-ish stomper with some vibrant backing vocals, Electric Light Orchestra strings and impressive, fuzzy guitar.

  

Raincoat And A Rose is a pleasing slow number, while Cenotaph/Letter From Amsterdam is an instrumental interlude that merges into an Elton John meets Roger Daltrey solid, riffy rocker. Deltics is a brassy grinding rocker based around train travel (Deltics were a type of train engine). A bit of bluesy guitar creeps in, for the first time. Diamonds is very much of its era, late seventies, Elton John-style orchestrated pop/rock.

She Gave It Away is another one very much ploughing the same furrow, as indeed does Don't Want Your Best FriendNo Qualifications slows down the pace on a saxophone-enhanced song about educational achievement, or lack of it. You could have predicted that the final number, Seabird would be a tender, acoustic ballad. It is a nice one, though.

So this was Chris Rea's "Elton John" album, conspicuous for its lack of blues influence and precious little of the great slide guitar he became famous for. It is certainly not a bad album but it is not essential in any way. It had no part to play in 1979's musical legacy, really.




Tennis (1980)


Tennis/Sweet Kiss/Since I Don't See You Anymore/Dancing Girls/No Work Today/Every Time I See You Smile/For Ever And Ever/Good News/Friends Across The Water/Distant Summers/Only With You/Stick It

This was Chris Rea's third album and he was beginning to experiment with longer songs and find a bit of his identity, after the West Coast style rock of his debut and the very Elton John-influenced follow up. It was all still very removed from any of the contemporary musical trends of the time, however, and consequently did not do very well. Once again, though, it has not been remastered and suffers from poor sound.

Tennis suffers from some awful sound and never quite gets out of its funk/rock rut, really. It has a bit of a feel of Ace's How Long about it, though. I am not quite sure of the relevance of the "do you like tennis" Yes I do" chorus. In fact the whole song is weird, lyrically. Better is the deep, bluesy Sweet Kiss with its solid brass parts and swampy bassline. That recognisable Rea slide guitar enhances the rack considerably. Since I Don't See You Anymore has a slightly Mexican/Texas vibe to it, and a bit of a Mavericks feel. Dancing Girls is similarly melodic and poppy.

  

No Work Today is a jaunty little instrumental. The Elton John influence had not gone forever, though, and reappears on the soulful piano-driven ballad Every Time I See You Smile. The track ends with some excellent guitar and backing vocals interplay. Actually, the punchy For Ever And Ever has a horn-driven upbeat Elton John feel to it as well. Good News is a soulful, gospelly groove with a slightly Southern bluesy beat to it.

Friends Across The Water is a light, summery, semi-reggae instrumental followed by a plaintive ballad in Distant SummersOnly With You sees Rea adopting that gruff voiced vocal merged with a melodic tune that would serve him so well in subsequent years. Here, he is doing it for pretty much the first time. Stick It is another Elton John-style track, like something from the Caribou era, so maybe that had not completely left Rea's music for good just yet. He was getting to the point where he was beginning, slowly, to carve out his own identity. He was not quite there yet, however.




Chris Rea (1982)


Loving You/If You Choose To Go/Guitar Street/Do You Still Dream?/Every Beat Of My Heart/Goodbye Little Columbus/One Sweet And Tender Touch/Do It For Your Love/Just Want To Be With You/Runaway/When You Know That Love Died      

This was Chris Rea’s fourth album. In the late seventies/early eighties his albums, and indeed Rea himself, were strange things. They were totally out of sync with any other music at the time, really. Think about early 1982-new romanticism, post punk, eighties pop were all around. Rea’s brand of pop/rock had been through a US and then an Elton John phase, and this one was a bit US-influenced but in a smooth, soulful sort of AOR way. All of these styles just didn’t really mean much to the UK scene in 1982. Elton John was old hat, yet to be reborn as a national treasure, and US music was more likely to be of the REO Speedwagon type or Fleetwood Mac (admittedly half British but you know what I mean). Rea’s wine bar style, laid-back, melodic easy going rock and his somewhat ordinary, unprepossessing image just wasn’t really registering yet. It would, within a few years, but not yet. So, this album went right under the radar, which was a shame, as it is really good. It is immaculately played, with a soully appeal lacking in his previous offerings and it contains a collection of impressive songs .

 

Loving You is pretty typical of the album’s material - full of that easy going vibe, soulful vocals and a bassy beat straight out of Ace, from the mid seventies. That How Long bassline is even more pronounced on the lovely tones of If You Choose To Go. This is actually really good stuff, but it is easy to see how it just didn’t cut the mustard back in early 1982. Give it a few years.

The mood changes as Rea shows he can rock out on the slide guitar-driven riffy power of Guitar Street. Then it is back to the gentle strains of Do You Still Dream?, a very Rea-esque number of the sort that would characterise his subsequent work. Every Beat Of My Heart is a smoochy, romantic number that, if only this album had been heard by more people, would have made it on to many “first dance” requests at weddings.

Goodbye Little Columbus eventually breaks out into a very catchy mid-pace rock number. If Billy Joel had put this out, it no doubt would have been a huge hit. One Sweet And Tender Touch is a soul-style ballad. It features a nice saxophone solo. Do It For Your Love is a very eighties, Fleetwood Mac-ish song. Just Want To Be With You is one of my favourites. The melody and delivery has a bit of a Springsteen feel to it. If you thought that Elton John influence had been left behind on the yellow brick road, think again, it is there on the appealing Runaway. Rea often ends his albums on a moving, evocative ballad, and he does here on When You Know That Love Died. It is enhanced by a superb slide guitar solo.

This was Rea’s best album thus far, although his previous ones were all ok, he was carving out his own identity more on this one. It just needed a few years to be part of the milieu.




Water Sign (1983)


Nothing's Happening By The Sea/Deep Water/Candles/Love's Strange Ways/Texas/Let It Loose/I Can Hear Your Heart Beat/Midnight Blue/Hey You/Out Of The Darkness  
        
This was the album that started to get Chris Rea a little bit better known than he had been. The eighties were in full swing and he would find his easy listening rock sound gaining more and more fans as the decade progressed. He was more than just dinner-party music for the mid-twenties/early thirties, but it was that group which gave him his initial popularity.
          
Nothing's Happening By The Sea is a meditative opener, inspired, I am sure, by Van Morrison's Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart album from the same year. This was the sort of laid-back, walking pace, contemplative song that would come to characterise Rea's work throughout the eighties and nineties. It was the eighties, of course, so we could expect a synth-driven, new romantic-style number and duly got it in Deep WaterCandles is another track augmented by some contemporary keyboard sounds, although Rea's distinctive, smoky voice is far removed from the haughty tones of the new romantics. Rea's guitar near the end is very Dire Straits-ish.

Love's Strange Ways is a beautiful, late-night bluesy ballad enhanced by some killer Spanish-style guitar. Texas is not the song that appeared on the later Road To Hell album in 1989. It is a nice song with Rea now really developing his bluesy but romantic method of deliver. Let It Loose rocks solidly, and I Can Hear Your Heart Beat proved to be one of Rea's first songs that would go on to become well-known. It features a very Talking Heads-esque guitar riff.

Midnight Blue is a sumptuous, soulful ballad, with Rea showing just what a knack he was developing for writing a quality, moving slowie. An excellent song, best on the album. That trademark slide guitar makes its first real appearance half way through too. Hey You has a very eighties, summery vibe but it is again lifted by Rea's superb voice. Out Of The Darkness starts off like The Human League, with Rea going all Phil Oakey on the introductory vocal. Some solid rock riffs differentiate it from anything new romantic, though, as did the saxophone solo.

Chris Rea's albums had, up until this point, been very impressive, but somehow culturally out of kilter with the zeitgeist. Not any more, this was a very good eighties album and fitted right in with the "wine bar" sound that was beginning to proliferate. It was more than just background bar music, though, this was a good offering that still sounds good today.






















THE EIGHTIES (1984-1989)


Wired To The Moon (1984)


Bombollini/Touché d'Amour/Shine, Shine, Shine/Wired To The Moon/Reasons/I Don't Know What It Is But I Love It/Ace Of Hearts/Holding Out/Winning                                                    

Chris Rea had a strange career thus far. This was his sixth album and, apart from some popularity for the songs Fool (If You Think It's Over) and I Can Hear Your Heart Beat he had been something of a commercial disaster, not fitting in with either new wave or new romantic trends. The mid-eighties rise of "adult", "wine bar" music helped him succeed more than he had, but that would be more in 1986 and 1987. His follow-up to this, the Springsteen-esque, rocky Shamrock Diaries was far more successful than this was. He was still treading water at this point. This album did very little and has subsequently been almost forgotten about.

Bombollini is a six-minute plus opener that gets in on the contemporary trend for South American pipe music. It has a few lyrics, but not many and doesn't really get anywhere, suffering from poor, muffled, unremastered sound. Much better is the summery, white reggae of Touché d'Amour. Rea's band pull off the reggae rhythms quite convincingly, it has to be said. Shine, Shine, Shine epitomises that late night ambience, the whole low volume background music thing.

  

Wired To The Moon gets the drummer working a bit, with more of a regular mid-pace rock beat. Rea's growly but melodic voice just washes over you on these songs. He really has a pleasing voice.  Reasons is a great track, sort of Rea meeting Mark Knopfler and Bruce Springsteen and coming up with a really infectious rock song. Good stuff.

I Don't Know What It Is But I Love It is similar to some of the material Elton John was putting out around the same time. It is upbeat and hooky, particularly on the rather cheesy but infectious chorus. On so many Chris Rea albums there is always one superb song. On this one it is the marvellous, evocative Ace Of Hearts. It is packed full of melodic emotion. It also breaks out into some impressive rock half way through. Good old Chris, he could always come up with an understated classic. Holding Out is another Elton John-ish, piano-driven number. Winning  is a big, muscular bluesy Dire Straits-ish rocker to end with, clocking in at another six minutes. It features lots of great guitar including Rea's trademark slide.

You know, this album should have done much better than it did. Thankfully for Rea, his next few albums would redress the balance in his favour.




Shamrock Diaries (1985)


Steel River/Stainsby Girls/Chisel Hill/Josephine/One Golden Rule/All Summer Long/Stone/Shamrock Diaries/Love Turns To Lies/Hired Gun           

It was 1985 now, and Chris Rea had released seven albums, would you believe. None of them had sold many copies at all, dispiritingly for him and his record company. He changed things around a bit here. This was his most "stadium rock"-ish of his offerings so far, the one that had him sounding like a Middlesbrough Springsteen. The synth pop and new romantic keyboard influences had gone now and he was becoming more of a rocker. This was the first time I took notice of him, back then. There was some quality material on here, songs that made you sit up and take notice. Many of his albums contained just the one absolutely copper-bottomed great track. This one had at least five of them.

Steel River is a Rea classic, starting off as a slow piano-driven ballad it launches into a huge gospel soul brassy chorus. Lyrically, it is a moving song about his home town of Middlesbrough. I have to say, though, that I prefer the version on the album of re-workings, New Light Through Old Windows. The same applies to another Rea anthem, the Springsteen-esque Stainsby Girls, a tribute to his wife, who attended Stainsby Secondary Modern School in Middlesbrough. It was this track that first brought my attention to Rea. It is an excellent slide guitar-dominated, riffy rocker with great lyrics. In 1985, this was what I wanted to hear, after several years of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Culture Club forced into my earshot.

The quality continues on the beautifully-evocative, soulful Chisel Hill. This was Chris Rea at his moving best. I love this track. It is very Springsteen-influenced you have to say, with touches of Van Morrison too. Josephine is a sumptuous ballad that would go on to become a Rea standard in live sets. One Golden Rule ploughs the same furrow, although it was still 1985, so a bit of a synth backing prevails on the surprisingly mournful All Summer Long.

Stone is a solid, powerful rock ballad. This brooding, soulful, atmospheric ambience is found on Shamrock Diaries as well, enhanced by some jazzy, wine-bar saxophone. Chris Rea has always had an excellent voice and this song shows that, particularly. Love Turns To Lies is hewn from the same quarry. This is actually quite a sombre album, especially this latter half and the introspective, reflective gloom is not lifted by the moody eight minutes of Hired Gun. Very Brothers In Arms. Ironically, that album didn't come out until a month after this one. It breaks out into an Elton John-style chorus. Rea gives us a searing slide guitar solo too. Don't get me wrong, this is a very good song and this was a good album, but it is a very sombre one. It was Rea's finest album thus far too.

The latest release contains some interesting bonus material:-

Dancing Shoes is a groovy little saxophone-enhanced jazzy number, full of laid-back atmosphere, while the “sax mix” of Stainsby Girls is rousing, and has one of the guitar soloes augmented by a superb sax one. Sunrise is a pleasant piece of lightly funky easy rock. The instrumental And When She Smiles is most evocative and rides in a grandiosely infectious piano riff. It features a nice slow guitar solo too.

September Blue would re-appear again on the Dancing With Strangers album, a few years later. It is soulfully vibrant and nicely organ-driven. Everytime It Rains has a bit of a disco riff to it and has vague echoes of Elton John’s eighties material, and Sting too. It is a good track. Listening to these I feel the original album would have been enhanced by the presence of some of them, as they are quality songs. These days, of course, you can just play the whole lot. The stonking live performance of Midnight Blue from 1983’s Water Sign album is a delight as well.



On The Beach (1986)


On The Beach/Little Blonde Plaits/Giverny/Lucky Day/Just Passing Through/It's All Gone/Hello Friend/Two Roads/Light Of Hope/Auf Immer Und Ewig   

After the Springsteen-esque Shamrock DiariesChris Rea diversified a little on this one, creating that relaxed, easy-listening ambience that would come to be something many people associated him with to the expense of his more rocky, bluesy material. This is archetypal slow and reflective "adult"  Chris Rea. There are lots of listeners around who want nothing more from him. Forget his searing slide guitar, just give us On The Beach. As often the case with Chris Rea over the years, though, you feel he doesn't quite know which direction to take. This was definitely the start of his "easy listening/AOR" period. This is very much an album for a hot afternoon or a lazy late summer night.

As with many Chris Rea albums, there is one absolute killer track on it. Here it is the sumptuous On The Beach which has been recorded several times by Rea. This one is probably the best, its syncopated jazzy rhythms played slightly slower and that summery bossa nova feel coming across utterly irresistibly. Rea's voice is as warm as a summer's afternoon on this. It is one of his finest moments. Some sound effects of waves gently lapping on the shore lead into the similarly laid-back Little Blonde Plaits. The soporific, gently hypnotic vibe continues on the beautiful Giverny, which breaks out into a lovely, rhythmic number a minute or so in.

Lucky Day doesn't up the pace either, being similarly slow in pace and featuring some delicious Spanish guitar. Its influence is vaguely Latin in places. The guitarist in Rea is never far from the surface however, and some excellent playing enhances the sleepy Just Passing Through. Some classically-influenced piano makes an interjection as well.

The old "side two" begins with some upbeat eighties synth pop/rock with the album's liveliest number so far in It's All Gone. Despite its liveliness, it is no Stainsby Girls or Steel River. Although it has a serious message about the decline of Rea's home town of Middlesbrough, that gets a bit lost in the poppy backing, unfortunately. It is over seven minutes long and features some excellent instrumental improvisation at the end. Hello Friend is a moving Rea heartbreaker. He does this sort of thing so well, so sensitively.

Two Rounds has some funky guitar and brass and a solid beat and is slightly more punchy than a lot of the album's material. Both Light Of Hope and Auf Immer Und Ewig (Forever And Ever) see a return to the slow, reflective pace of most of the album. Although this album barely gets beyond walking pace, it is still a pleasant listen.

The bonus material from this album's sessions include the gently summery (what a surprise!) strains of Look Out For Me; the original recording of Let's Dance which has a calypso-like backing and easy vocal and is completely different to the punchy, catchy one everyone knows that appeared on Dancing With Strangers the following year; the synthy but bluesy and bassy instrumental If Anybody Asks You with its dub-reggae influences; the laid-back, dreamy Freeway, another pleasant, relaxing instrumental in Bless Them All and the quirky, Dire Straits-ish Crack That Mould.



Dancing With Strangers (1987)


Joys Of Christmas/I Can't Dance To That/Windy Town/Gonna Buy A Hat/Curse Of The Traveller/Let's Dance/Que Sera/Josie's Tune/Loving You Again/That Girl Of Mine/September Blue              

Personally, I think this was Chris Rea's best album thus far. It was his most full on rock offering, more so than Shamrock Diaries, more lively and upbeat in its feel, and less laid-back than On The Beach. Although we were still in the eighties, the album is refreshingly guitar-driven. Yes, there are a few synthesisers floating around but they do not overwhelm as they do on many eighties albums. It is still a credible rock album, for the most part.
            
Joys Of Christmas is certainly not the festive song one might expect it to be - it is a deep, bluesy number with Rea semi-speaking his gruff vocal about the "joys of Christmas, Northern style". It is a great track, enhanced by a searing slide guitar solo. I Can't Dance To That is another blues-influenced rocker with a great riff and featuring Rea's first reference to "the road to hell". The Dire Straits-ish Windy Town is packed full of Northern atmosphere. Rea really starts to create an identity from his roots on this album. There are touches of Al Stewart about this one too.

 

Gonna Buy A Hat keeps the riffy rock coming thick and fast on another appealing, punchy number. There is a bit of Bruce Springsteen in the Born In The USA era about this, sort of Darlington County. It uses a solid brass section too. The pace slows down on the Celtic-influenced Curse Of The Traveller, although after a mysterious, haunting pipe intro it breaks out into a slow pace but muscular bluesy rock ballad. Another great piece of guitar work adorns the track. That brassy, jaunty catchiness is quick to return, though, on the popular Let's Dance. This is a track that Rea has recorded several times. This is a slightly slower, more soulful version of it. It is the original, I think.


Que Sera is a mix of blues harmonica and Latin rhythms and a sort of Bo Diddley beat. There are slight echoes of Springsteen's She's The One every now and again, just vaguely, in the drum rhythm. Josie's Tune is a short, entrancing Celtic pipe interlude. It gently merges into the Van Morrison-style mystic intro to Loving You Again, which eventually bursts into a metronomic, pounding but soulful rock song. A bit synthy, but never mind. That Girl Of Mine is a jaunty, slightly rockabilly number with a nice catchy bass line and confident, ebullient vocal.

September Blue ends the album with a tender, emotive ballad. It was the album's only example of Rea's ability to write a touching love song. The main bulk of the album was vibrant rock-ish material. That, for me, was a good thing, despite the fact that I like his love songs. This was clearly intended to be an upbeat album. Another sleepy one like On The Beach would typecast him somewhat. Chris Rea was starting to prove his versatility. He was never a one-trick pony, and still isn't.

There are several non-album tracks from this album's sessions. They include the catchy, riff-powered rock of Yes I Do; the beguiling instrumental Se Sequi; the laid-back, sleepy, summery groove of I'm Taking The Day Out; another relaxing instrumental in Danielle's Breakfast; some reggae-influenced instrumental this time in Rudolph's Rotor Arm; an On The Beach summery, seductive ballad in Smile; the vaguely Springsteen-esque (later era) and Mark Knopfler-influenced folky blues of I Don't Care Anymore; another instrumental, this time guitar-driven, in Donahue's Broken Wheel and another version of Josephine, this time an upbeat, funky one with an extended intro. Check out that great bass on it.

New Light Through Old Windows (1988)


(in brackets are the albums the songs originally appeared on)/Let's Dance (from "Dancing with Strangers")/Working On It (single)/Ace Of Hearts (from "Wired To The Moon")/Josephine (from "Shamrock Diaries")/Candles (from "Water Sign")/On The Beach (from "On The Beach")/Fool (If You Think It's Over) (from "Whatever Happened To Benny Santini?")/I Can Hear Your Heartbeat (from "Water Sign")/Shamrock Diaries (from "Shamrock Diaries")/Stainsby Girls (from "Shamrock Diaries")/Windy Town (from "Dancing With Strangers")/Driving Home For Christmas (single)/Steel River (from "Shamrock Diaries")

Funnily enough, this was the first Chris Rea album I ever bought, on the back of liking the Stainsby Girls single. At the time I didn't realise, initially, that the album was made up of re-recordings of tracks previously issued on other albums. Many artists have done this sort of thing later in their careers, but this was a comparatively early and brave move for Rea. What is good about these recordings is that they have a great sound to them (the early albums all suffered comparatively from poor-ish sound) so the album stands on its own feet as a credible one, and not one of re-hashes.

It was actually marketed as The Best Of Chris Rea: New Light Through Old Windows, so I just assumed it was a "best of" compilation. It took me quite a while to realise it wasn't quite that straightforward. For a long time, these were the only versions of these songs I knew.

 

Let's Dance is big, brassy and infectious and Working On It is full of trademark Rea slide guitar riffs. Ace Of Hearts is a beautiful, evocative laid-back ballad, packed full of soul and Dire Straits-esque guitar backing. Josephine is one in what was now typical Chris Rea style, with his gruff voice dominating over a vaguely summery, reggae-ish backing.

Candles is not as keyboard-dominated as it is on the Water Sign album and features an excellent Knopfler-influenced guitar. On The Beach has a superb sound to it, with that catchy shuffling intro taking centre stage. Rea's voice on this is superb, as indeed is the song's whole ambience.

Both Fool (If You Think It's Over) and I Can Hear Your Heartbeat had been quite popular semi-hits, but had not been ubiquitous enough for me not to think these were their original incarnations. They both sound great on here anyway. My two favourite tracks have always been the Springsteen-esque Stainsby Girls and the epic Steel River. Both of them, for me, are far better on these recordings than their originals. "Dancing to Motown, making love with a Carole King record playing...". Great line

Shamrock Diaries is punchier here, but unfortunately lacks the saxophone that enhanced is original recording. Windy Town is a most atmospheric number with a real North-East England feel. Oh, and then there is Driving Home For Christmas. Yes, it also has bags of atmosphere, but, of course, it can only be played once or twice in December and that's it.

  

The Road To Hell (1989)


The Road To Hell (Part One)/The Road To Hell (Part Two)/You Must Be Evil/Texas/Looking For A Rainbow/Your Warm And Tender Love/Daytona/That's What They Always Say/I Just Wanna Be With You/Tell Me There's A Heaven

This was an album which gained Chris Rea considerable critical acclaim, after several years of releasing poppy, commercial AOR rock. He now let his blues and gospel influences out and his record company thought it would flop. It became his biggest selling album. It had that laid-back Dire Straits on Brothers In Arms sort of appeal that was popular in the mid-late eighties.

The two incarnations of The Road To Hell are both superbly atmospheric in their own way. The first begins with windscreen wiper sound effects and snippets of radio traffic updates before Rea arrives with the sort of bluesy gospel vocal he would use a lot on 2005's Blue Guitars project. Then the instantly recognisable drum beat and guitar of the very Dire Straits-esque style kick in and Rea tells it "ain't no technological breakdown, this is the road to hell..." as he drives round the M25. It is one of the best songs of its type of all time. Rea contributes some excellent slide guitar at the end too. The song is one of his finest moments.


You Must Be Evil is a huge, bassy, thumping piece of slow burning bluesy rock, with Rea's evocative voice again laconically giving the song such character. He really is a most underrated, often misunderstood artist. He is far more than a throwaway, easy listening AOR merchant. The blues are deep in his soul, lyrically and musically. Check out the searing blues guitar on this track. Chris Rea can play the blues, ain't no doubt about that. Texas is very much a pointer to some of Rea's later blues material, despite its late eighties beat. It is beautifully understated and full of atmosphere. That killer guitar is here again, too. This is quality stuff. Listening to it again, I had sort of forgotten just how good it was.

Looking For A Rainbow is seven minutes of superb Chris Rea rock, yet again full of character and that guitar enhancing it. Your Warm And Tender Love continues very much in the same vein. The infectious shuffle of Daytona is back to a Dire Straits groove again, particularly on the guitar. The drum sound on here, as on all the album, is immensely powerful. That's What They Aways Say is an upbeat, pleasant rocker. I Just Wanna Be With You is a romantic, melodic number, while the album ends with the heavily orchestrated and moving ballad Tell Me There's A Heaven.

Chris Rea has produced many fine albums, this is up there as one of his very best.

The non-album tracks from this album's sessions include the rhythmic, slightly swampy vibe of He Should Know Better; the gentle instrumental 1975 and yet another version of Josephine, this time with a bassy, dance-ish but commercial beat to it.



THE NINETIES AND BEYOND (1991-2019)



Auberge (1991)


Auberge/Gone Fishing/You're Not A Number/Heaven/Set Me Free/Red Shoes/Winter Song/Sing A Song Of Love To Me/Every Second Counts/Looking For The Summer/And You My Love/The Mention Of Your Name  

Chris Rea was a more successful artist by now, finally, having been putting albums out since 1978. This was actually his eleventh album. It was the follow-up to the dark-ish Dire Straits-influenced and bluesy rock of The Road To Hell, which was a hit of an album. This offering is less dark, more laid-back but still solid in its tough AOR rock appeal. It is definitely rock for reflective, hard but surprisingly sensitive men approaching forty. Just like Rea himself.
              
Auberge takes 2:40 to burst into action, following some footsteps/background noise sound effects and some slow, bluesy slide guitar. When it does, it is a riffy and brassily upbeat rock number. Rea's gritty, flinty voice is the dominant feature. It is a warm, reassuring but tough voice. Gone Fishing is a beautiful, philosophical song with a Springsteen-esque male view of life and its expectations. You're Not A Number is probably the first track thus far in Rea's career which is done in the muscular blues rock style that would continue into the new millennium and would populate a lot of the huge Blue Guitars project in 2005. The seeds for that album were sown here. Another thing one notices about this album is the improvement in its sound quality from the eighties releases.

Heaven is a mournful, slow, emotive ballad in that sleepy contemporary Eric Clapton style. Set Me Free is cut from the same cloth too, although more bluesy in its lyrics about "looking down that road out of town". Some great guitar and a huge orchestration appears at the end. Red Shoes, after an odd intro played by what sounds like a tuba, cranks up into another kicking, horn-powered rocker, in the Let's Dance style. Winter Song is a slow song with vague Sting hints about it.

Sing A Song Of Love To Me is also a soporific, late-night crooner. Four of the last five tracks have been in such a mode and it is this that makes this a bit of a low-key album. I prefer my Chris Rea a bit more bluesy and rocking, or at least for around 60% of the material. The balance here is a bit too far the other way, for me. The mood is changed a little, though, with the summery reggae of Every Second Counts. Rea and whichever musicians he has used have always been able to play convincing reggae, something not true of all artists. An incongruous piece of orchestration at the end spoils it slightly, though. Looking For The Summer is a gently shuffling number vaguely reminiscent in its refrain of The Days Of Pearly SpencerAnd You My Love is waves-washing on the beach pleasant enough. The Mention Of Your Name is a Frank Sinatra "dark period" torch-style song. It is another slow-paced song to end what had become a very slow-paced album.

Personally, I always have a bit of a problem with post 1990 albums that get near to, or over, the hour mark. I feel there is a succinct punchiness to a traditional seventies-style forty minutes offering. Shaving fifteen minutes off would definitely improve Auberge.

There are several non-album tracks that date from this album's sessions. The Winter Song has an appealing percussion and gentle guitar backing and a typical smooth but growly Rea vocal that evokes the chills of autumn and winter. This version is different to that which appeared on some versions of the album; Footprints In The Snow is walking pace slow, jazzily moody and atmospheric, bringing to mind some of the material on Van Morrison's Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart. Indeed, a lot about it is Morrison-esque - the piano, the vocal, the subtle bass; Teach Me To Dance is a gently upbeat in an easy going sort of way track with a vaguely summery, sleepy reggae lilt. Its torpor is broken half way through by a jazzy drum solo and brass interjections; True To You is an archetypal Rea ballad with strong slide guitar, drums and bluesy ambience; one of the many versions of Josephine (a slightly reggae-infused one) and the chunky, riffy instrumental rock of Six Up. They are all strong tracks that would not have been out of place on the album.



God's Great Banana Skin (1992)


Nothing To Fear/Miles Is A Cigarette/God's Great Banana Skin/90's Blues/Too Much Pride/Boom Boom/I Ain't The Fool/There She Goes/I'm Ready/Black Dog/Soft Top, Hard Shoulder      

This was the album which saw Chris Rea's long-held love of the blues finally start to really poke its head above the surface. The easy listening vibe created in the late eighties/early nineties is still there, but there is also bluesy guitar prevalent and a laid-back ambience persists all around the album. It is even more low-key than its predecessor, Auberge had been. Rea was certainly laying down a marker as to the sort of material he wanted to be known for at this time. You don't get too much difference in a whole row of Rea albums around now until he went full-on bluesy at the end of the nineties, but there were definitely signs on here.
                           
Nothing To Fear begins with two and a half minutes of atmospheric, deep, bluesy background guitar before a gently rhythmic wine bar-style beat kicks in, together with Rea's smoky, warm reassuring voice. A killer slide guitar solo features near the end. The track fades out with a real Dire Straits feel to it. Miles Is A Cigarette, which presumably references Miles Davis, is suitably late night and jazzy, with A Kind Of Blue influences. Rea praises the pleasures of smoking on the song, something nobody minded in 1992, funny how a couple of decades later, smoking seems such a thing of the past. As a lifelong non-smoker, it does to me anyway, maybe not to others.

God's Great Banana Skin is slightly more upbeat, a bluesy rocker with a catchy vocal refrain and more trademark slide guitar. 90's Blues is a Knopfler-esque blues, both musically and in its laconic vocal delivery. "Well the fat man took my money..." is such a Knopfler-inspired line. It has a rich, deep chugging bass line too. The Rea guitar at the end is stunning. Too Much Pride is a solid mid-paced rocker with a sleepy vocal. Again, it is very Dire Straits-ish. Boom Boom is in the same vein, but bluesier and similar to some of the material on 2005's vast Blue Guitars project.

I Ain't The Fool is a muscular bluesy rock ballad as to is the slightly more laid-back and melodic There She Goes. The latter has a lovely guitar solo piece in the middle. I'm Ready is probably the album's most riffy, out-and-out rocker with some excellent guitar and an infectious Stonesy riff. Black Dog (not the Led Zeppelin song) is another lively, upbeat rocker. Soft Top, Hard Shoulder is similarly appealing. The album has ended with three more pumped-up rock songs, but overall this was another very gentle, reflective piece of work.




Espresso Logic (1993)


Espresso Logic/Red/Soup Of The Day/Johnny Needs A Fast Car/Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea/Julia/Summer Love/New Way/Stop/She Closed Her Eyes

After 1992's comparatively bluesy God's Great Banana SkinChris Rea was back a year later with a late-night coffee bar of an album, hinted at in the title.

Espresso Logic is, like the first track on the previous album, initially a low-key beginning to the album with a haunting, Celtic-sounding extended two minute plus intro that breaks out into a drum-powered number with Rea sounding like cross between Mark Knopfler and Sting. It ends as a Latin-influenced rhythmic groove - it almost feels like three songs in one. The atmosphere by the end is completely different to the one it set out with and after a few listens it becomes quite intoxicating. Red is a slow, gruff ballad with an evocative, moving vocal and a lovely Uilleann pipes solo from master of that instrument, Davy Spillane. Rea's slide guitar solo after that is great too. It is a really good track, the album's most moving.

Soup Of The Day is a chunky, slightly clumsy in parts number but in other parts it is convincing solid rock. It is the chorus bit that is slightly awry but the verses are certainly fine blues rock. Johnny Needs A Fast Car has a slow but captivating percussion rhythm to it and a brooding vocal from Rea - it has a mysterious, shuffling appeal. It ends in rocking fashion, upping the tempo somewhat as Rea's songs often do.

Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea is a typical piece of quiet Rea rock from the period enhanced at its climax by some superb guitar. Once again, it is a track that I really like. Julia is the most well-known song from the album - a drum-driven, catchy song written about Rea's then four year-old daughter full of tender, loving lyrics. It was a top twenty hit. It is one of those songs that lifts the spirits.

Summer Love is a torch song-like, heavily orchestrated ballad while New Way is a lively, carefree and highly enjoyable jazzy-sounding number. Stop has the tempo going back to around midnight, however, with a smoky, brush drum-driven piano ballad, you know the sort. She Closed Her Eyes is a Van Morrison-esque spoken, philosophical piece of work that ends the album on a reflective note.

Overall, this was a pretty low-key, relaxing album without so much of the bluesy edge that had made itself known on the previous album. Its tracks initially seem neither bad nor stand out good. Having said that, several listens in and it starts to do its work on me, that can only be a good thing. It is definitely a "grower".



The Blue Café (1998)


Square Peg Round Hole/Miss Your Kiss/Shadows Of The Big Man/Where Do We Go From Here?/Since I Found You/Thinking Of You/As Long As I Have Your Love/Anyone Quite Like You/Sweet Summer Day/Stick By You/I'm Still Holding On/The Blue Café

By 1998, Chris Rea has spent the last few years on various other projects before returning with this mixture of slide guitar-dominated blues rock and relaxing, laid-back effortless ballads. It served to solidify his status as a Radio Two AOR favourite. It is all unthreatening, standard nineties fare from Rea but that doesn't mean it isn't extremely pleasant. All very Mark Knopfler-esque.

Square Peg Round Hole is a fine riffy opener, with Stones riffs and pounding drums backing Rea's gruff, smoky vocal. Of course, his trademark slide guitar features with a great solo. The riffage continues on Miss Your Kiss. Material like this was a precursor to 2005's massive Blue Guitars project.

 

Shadows Of The Big Man is a brooding, sombre orchestrated ballad packed full of foreboding atmosphere. Where Do We Go From Here? has one of those sumptuous Rea backings such as he used on On The Beach - warm, summery,  melodious but still strong, you know the sort. The song is full of hooks, both musically and vocally. Since I Found You is a really appealing slow, moving, evocative and also very rhythmic number. Rea does this sort of thing so well. Thinking Of You is a perfect example of when he takes a ballad and ups the tempo and power just a bit and enhances it with slide guitar. As Long As I Have Your Love serves as a further example of the afore-mentioned slower ballad.

Anyone Quite Like You is a solid serving of bluesy slow-paced rock while Sweet Summer Day evokes exactly what its title would suggest, helped along by a glorious bass line. Stick By You has the by now expected cool vibe about it too. I'm Holding On is a ballad with a powerful, muscular drum backing and some great slide guitar. The Blue Café is a deliciously warm, bluesy groove to end on with a bit of a Road To Hell feel.

Look, you know what you're getting with this album as you do with all of Rea's offerings. It's all honest stuff, though. Trustworthy and solid.




King Of The Beach (2000)


King Of The Beach/All Summer Long/Sail Away/Still Beautiful/The Bones Of Angels/Guitar Street/Who Do You Love/The Memory Of A Good Friend/Sandwriting/Tamatave/God Gave Me An Angel/Waiting For A Blue Sky/Mississippi

This was another in a series of nineties albums from Chris Rea that followed a similar pattern - relaxing summery fare with an occasional bluesy edge. This one just tipped over into the new millennium, being released in 2000. There was nothing new or ground-breaking to be found on here, but, as always, it drips with musical competence. I prefer other albums of his, however, that display more variety. This one, like 1991's Auberge, barely gets out second gear.

King Of The Beach is an attractive mix of slide guitar blues, vague hints of reggae and laid-back jazzy vibes. It is a fine opener, one of the best on the album All Summer Long is a re-recording of a track from 1985's Shamrock Diaries given an appealing (if not a little percussionally programmed) makeover. It has that typical laid-back summery groove that Rea did so well. Sail Away is a beautiful slow and sleepy ballad.


Still Beautiful is a rhythmic slow groove and The Bones Of Angels is also a slow burner, but more brooding and warm, with a sad, evocative hook line. As with many Rea songs, it builds up slowly and ends on full power.

Guitar Street sees the first real blues influences on a Mark Knopfler-influenced number, enhanced by some fine slide guitar. It is another of the album's better tracks. Who Do You Love returns to the gentle sound of most of the album and the same applies to the moving The Memory Of A Good Friend. Guess what? Sandwriting isn't much different either - if anything it is even more somnolent.

Tamatave has Rea singing in schoolboy French on occasions while God Gave Me An Angel has Rea giving thanks for having a talent if not a good-looking face. It has a pleasing appeal in its sound and delivery. Waiting For A Blue Sky has an organ and bass-driven catchy groove and more great slide guitar and Mississippi sounds vaguely like Timmy Thomas's Why Can't We Live Together in its keyboard riff.  It is bluesy and a bit early Elton John-ish in places (the chorus). I like this one.

As I said earlier, the album doesn't change much in ambience or pace. Rea needed to embrace the blues more. He was soon to do just that and some.




Dancing Down The Stony Road (2002)


Easy Rider/Stony Road/Dancing The Blues Away/Catfish Girl/Burning Feet/Slow Dance/Segway/Missisippi 2/So Lonely/Heading For The City/Ride On/When The Good Lord Talked To Jesus/Qualified/Sun Is Rising/Someday My Peace Will Come/Got To Be Moving On/Ain't Going Down This Way/Changing Times/The Hustler/Give That Girl A Diamond   

In many ways this was the forerunner of the monumental Blue Guitars project. This was the album which saw Chris Rea change direction from his radio-friendly, “easy listening” style which had dominated his output in the late 1980s and 1990s to a style which saw him mine the rich seam of his beloved blues.
                       
This is a double album, and is maybe just a bit too sprawling (as double albums usually are) but there is some quality blues rock on here - Heading For The City with some trademark red hot slide guitar on it, Mississippi 2, Easy RiderDancing The Blues Away, the swamp blues of Catfish Girl (which would appear again on Blue Guitars), and the evocative, soulful Stony Road. So Lonely is a mournful slow blues, as indeed is the almost spiritual Ride OnWhen The Good Lord Talked To Jesus is another spiritual-influenced heartfelt, yearning blues. Sun Is Rising starts as a slow lament of a blues and ends up as an upbeat, gospel celebration, both musically and lyrically. You could easily imagine this being sung in church. Then there is the intoxicating rhythm of Got To Be Moving On. Check out the slide guitar on Ain’t Going Down This Way too.

Probably the best blues is to be found in the second half of the album’s twenty tracks. However, all of it is impressive.

Rea stated that this was very much a Delta Blues album as opposed to say a Chicago Blues one. Delta bluesmen sang of hardship, poverty, religious faith and a recognition of their own mortality, whereas their Chicago equivalents often sang of   girls, drink, drugs and money. This was a blues that reached down deep into one’s mortal soul.

Rea’s voice is so suited to these tunes - rich, deep, expressive and sad. Of course, his guitar is up there with the best in the business and the musicians he employs are always of the highest standard. Just listen to Qualified as an example. 

Rea also employs the trick of adding false crackling sounds to give it that blues “authenticity” on some of the tracks for the first time. 

This album began a journey into the blues that was still present on his albums in 2017, through Blue GuitarsSanto Spirito Blues to Road Songs For Lovers. If it were not for the huge presence of Blue Guitars, this would be considered Rea’s blues masterpiece.






The Blue Jukebox (2004)


The Beat Goes On/Long Is The Time, Hard Is The Road/Let's Do It/Let It Roll/Steel River Blues/Somebody Say Amen/Blue Street/Monday Morning/Restless Soul/What Kind Of Love Is This/Paint My Jukebox Blue/Baby Don't Cry/Speed

From 2004, this album provided the foundation for the epic Blue Guitars project the next year. It is a straightforward blues rock album, By now Rea had truly found the blues and sort of re-invented himself. The problem I have with it is that it is over an hour in length and many of the tracks are of the same slow burning, sleepy vibe, there is simply not enough variety for my liking. For that reason I rarely listen to it. If I want to listen to Rea's blues work, I will pick stuff from Blue Guitars or 2002's Dancing Down The Stony Road.

The Beat Goes On is a muscular, thumping piece of mid-pace blues rock. It has a vague hint of Willy De Ville for me and plenty of slide guitar too, as you might expect. Long Is The Time, Hard Is The Road begins with a shuffling, brush drums jazzy blues beat and a typically gruff Rea vocal. It is enhanced by some fine, smoky saxophone. Let's Do It is a similarly slow burning blues this time featuring some blues harmonica as well as saxophone. Rea makes the slide guitar truly sing towards the end of this one too.

Let It Roll is so sleepy as to be almost comatose, Rea's growling voice is somehow always comforting, though. Great jazzy saxophone features again and that tinkling piano and crackling smoky atmosphere sure is intoxicating. The slide guitar solo is incendiary. Steel River Blues keeps up the scratchy-sounding somnolence while Somebody Say Amen has some great saxophone again, as indeed its predecessor did, but the pace stays pretty much the same. Nice bass line on here as well.

 

The old brush drums re-appear on the late-night, walking-pace groove of Blue Street. I guess it is no surprise that Monday Morning is exactly the same. Restless Soul, although still slow, has a bit of a change of rhythm to it, but only slightly. It has a nice deep drum beat and solid bass, though. The obligatory searing slide guitar appears again plus some funky brass, together with a killer bit of saxophone near the end. This is a fine track, I have to say.

What Kind Of Love Is This is a solemn late night jazzy number - now there's anther surprise! Paint My Jukebox Blue is nothing different either. I am listening to these tracks on their own so I am enjoying them more than if I had been experiencing several more just like them before, I have to admit. The same applies to the gently appealing Baby Don't Cry. Maybe the trick is to play tracks just three or four at a time. Finally, at last a bit of a change can be heard in the quirky rhythms of the piano, bass and drum-powered Mark Knopfler-esque Speed. This one is arguably the album's best track, an hour down the line.

The album was critically well-received and, for sure, it is immaculately played and delivered but it is just too sleepy for me. Knock twenty minutes off its running time and I may soften my stance. Listened to in isolation, any one of the tracks will be impressive in their own right, but one sitting sends me to sleep. Someone described it as "a dark rainy night of a jukebox...". They are dead right too, it sure is that. However, I have just revisited the middle batch of very similar songs and you know what, I am really enjoying them. I'm smiling to myself now as I realise they are growing on me.





Blue Guitars (2005)

  

This really is a phenomenal piece of work, and that is an understatement. While undergoing a period of serious ill health, Chris Rea decided to record eleven albums covering eleven different styles of his beloved blues genre, covering its development through from its early roos to more modern incarnations.

One can never listen to it too much, because it is such a gargantuan collection, one will always discover new delights in it. Just pick an album at random, play a few, or play the whole caboodle at random. Or else plough your way through it every couple of years.Here are the various albums:-

1. BEGINNINGS



This goes back to the style of the first blues songs, handed down, by word of mouth and the teaching of musical skills, by West African “griots”, often in slavery in the USA. The life was unbearably hard, brutal, oppressive and generally a colossal strain. This is reflected in the heartfelt music, with titles such as Cry For Home and the sadness is often inextricably linked to a deep religious faith in songs like Lord Tell Me It Won’t Be LongPraise The LordSweet Sunday and Sing Out The Devil. The spectre of slavery is present too - Boss Man Cut My Chains and White Man ComingThe King Who Sold His Own indicates that many slaves were sold into bondage by their own rulers. Many of these songs are dubbed with false crackling noises at the beginning to give them an “authenticity”. Eventually the crackling fades away. It can be a bit irritating after a while, but I understand the intention behind it.

The music is very much that of West Africa - Mali and Senegal, as opposed to the blues as we have come to know it. Here, though, is it where it began. Just listen to that percussion on “West Africa”. African blues as its best.

2. COUNTRY BLUES



Now we move properly to the Southern slaving states of the USA, for songs that tell their own sad story - Man Gone MissingKKK BluesIf You’ve Got A Friend In Jesus. More crackling noises, like the original blues recordings from the 1930s and 1940s. There is some hope for freedom and salvation on some of these songs though - Head Out On The HighwayGoing Up To Memphis and Ticket To Chicago, to the emancipated North, of course. There was also aimless wandering and alcoholism expressed in Walkin’ Country Blues and Too Much Drinkin’.The African percussion-based instruments had been replaced now by, more often than not, a single guitar or a harmonica.

3. LOUISIANA & NEW ORLEANS



When the African rhythms and the Southern states guitar and lyrics found their way to Creole and Cajun country, new instruments were added - banjos, accordions, mandolins, clarinets, piano and, of course the French influence - Dance Avec Moi and Le Fleur De La Vie. Jazz roots also came from this music. The blues mixed with cajun rhythms and stylings and the Delta Blues were born.

4. ELECTRIC MEMPHIS BLUES



Now, by the time the blues reached Memphis, crowds were getting bigger to watch the musicians play and this coincided with the the appearance of the electric guitar, which was just made for the blues. The artists needed to be louder to be heard above the crowds. Electric blues are what influenced the great sixties British blues groups - The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, John Mayalls’ Bluesbreakers, Fleetwood Mac, The Kinks, Duster Bennett, The Animals, Chris Farlowe and so on. The influence went on to blues rock bands like Cream, Free and Led Zeppelin. Electric Guitar and Electric Memphis Blues need no explanation.

5. TEXAS BLUES



Another state, yet another direction for the blues - take the basic concept, move it into the "modern wild west" and what you get out of it is straightforward Texas Blues. It's all in there, endless highways, run-down trucker bars, oil, dirt, cowboy boots, stories about life on the move, all down in Texas, all just as sad as the original Blues  - Lone Star BoogieNo Wheels BluesTruck Stop. Romantic ones appear too - Angelina and Houston Angel. Life wasn’t all bad. The mixture of the basic blues concept with more country and western styled instruments such as slide guitars and harmonica gave the Texas blues a rawer, yet again still instantly recognisable sound, which has played a major role in music ever since including such artists as Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top.

6. CHICAGO BLUES



As mentioned earlier, Chicago was a destination for the Afro-American diaspora to move North, to a new and hopefully happier life, to an extent. Here the blues developed even more electrically than those in Memphis and Texas. The music was tougher, harder, edgier. The jazz tradition in Chicago helped incorporate the saxophone into the blues sound. Lyrically, the hope of freedom and religious devotion were far less important than the making of money, the bedding of women, the taking of drugs and the surviving the bitterly cold Northern winters in impoverished ghetto-like housing developments. Maxwell StreetShe’s A Whole Heap Of TroubleCatwalk WomanTo Get Your Love and Jazzy Blue all exemplify these conceits. I’m Moving Up, of course, is about moving “up” to Chicago from the South.

7. BLUES BALLADS



The blues fused with jazz to express love, lost love and lust over a laid-back, smoothy, polished backing far removed from the blues’ primitive African roots. The old sadness and hardship is still there, though, in songs like Deep Winter Blues and I Love The Rain and My Deep Blue Ways. These songs still express the essential blues sensibilities.

8. GOSPEL, SOUL, BLUES & MOTOWN



Using the basic rhythms of the blues, the poppy commercial sound of Detroit’s Tamla Motown saw those original African influences producing prefect two-three minute chart hit singles. The religious fervour of those early days found its way to soul singers who learned their trade in Church gospel choirs. Love songs such as Sweet Love and Break Another Piece Of My Heart and spiritual gospel songs like Ball & Chain and Gospel Trail show both genres as being inextricably linked to those original blues.

9. CELTIC & IRISH BLUES



Across the waters to mingle now with white Celtic and Scottish indigenous music, blending the integral sadness of the lyrics from those cultures with the blues rhythms meant an intoxicating blend, originally played by artists such as Van Morrison and Them and progressing to rock acts like Rory Gallagher and Thin Lizzy. Drinking and being a long way from home are favourite subjects - “Too Far From Home” and the self-pitying Last Drink are good examples, together with the Irish folk mysticism of titles like Wishing Well and Lucky Day.

10. LATIN BLUES



Does the blues have anywhere else to go? You bet. To Brazil and Cuba, often the destination for African slaves. Blues guitar mingling with Cuban style piano and Latin guitar styles and Latin rhythms. Even Jamaican reggae had that “down at heel, life is a challenge” blues mentality in its lyrics, together with a strong cultural awareness of the problems caused by slavery over 400 years. Immigration BluesSun Is HotBajan Blue express blues-like problems in an idyllic, warm surrounding.

11. 60s & 70s



The British blues explosion of the mid-late 60s saw respect being given from a largely white audience and largely white bands to what now seemed to be a music from a long time ago, sung by octogenarian black men called “blind” something or other. The blues had come a long way. 200 years down the line, it had a new audience. The songs are all different, no real lyrical link as compared with the others, other than they had the blues, in one way or another. As we all have. There is even a song about TV motoring presenter Jeremy Clarkson in Clarkson Blues. I wonder what those poor slaves long ago would have made of that?


I think those people would listen to this music and love it. Chris Rea has recorded his own history of the blues here. As I said before, a remarkable achievement.


Santo Spirito Blues (2011)


Dancing My Blues Away/Rock And Roll Tonight/Never Tie Me Down/The Chance Of Love/The Last Open Road/Electric Guitar/Money/The Way She Moves/Dance With Me All Night Long/Think Like A Woman/You Got Lucky/Lose My Heart In You/I Will Go On

After the magnificence of Blue Guitars, six full years earlier, it would always be really difficult to top such a collection. Having returned to his blues roots for that magnum opus, Chris Rea stayed with them for this album.

This is very much an upbeat, blues rock n roll album, exemplified by tracks such as Rock And Roll Tonight, a sort of fast blues rock by numbers - pounding drums, cowbell shots and Rea’s screaming slide guitar cutting through like a hot knife through butter.  Never Tie Me Down is in exactly the same vein as indeed is the opener, the excellent Dancing My Blues Away. Rea’s gravelly voice doesn’t let you down, neither does his guitar or the more than competent backing band of experienced musicians. This album is a vibrant, uplifting, energetic listen, but as with his next one (in 2017) one feels that he could do this on automatic pilot. It is in his blood. Fair enough though, because it is damn good. Like Van Morrison (who has also “come home to the blues”), you now know what you are going to get.

The Chance Of Love is a fast-paced, very Mark Knopfler solo/Dire Straits-ish piece of mature rock, full of incisive guitar licks and cynical, world-weary lyrics. The Last Open Road is back to the old slide guitar and the full on rock sound again. If you like this sort of thing, you can’t really go wrong with it, but it a tad formulaic. Never mind, it’s a good formula, after all.

Electric Guitar is a reworked version of the song that first appeared on the Electric Memphis Blues album contained within Blue Guitars. It is a little less rootsy and edgy here, less “authentic”. Backed here with horns and a bit more of a “pop” feel, despite Rea’s slide guitar still dominating. It has some Stonesy riffs in that weren’t there before. Money would also appear on another album - the next one. Here it has that somewhat phoney “crackly” intro (as if it is an old scratched 45 rpm single) and a jazzy opening that continues for two minutes before fading away as a heavy rock beat and a country-ish mandolin-style guitar sound take over. The later version would be far more of a straightforward blues rock workout. Either are impressive, but I prefer the latter. The Way She Moves is a mysterious, edgy southern-style blues that would not have been out of place somewhere on Blue Guitars. It is one the best pure blues tracks on the album. Again, there are some Mark Knopfler similarities in Rea’s vocal delivery. Dance With Me All Night Long is another swampy sort of blues, a bit Willy De Ville in style. Think Like A Woman is just a beautiful, sad but melodic almost Springsteenesque ballad, with Rea’s voice on top heart-breaking timbre.

The album ends in something of a laid-back low-key fashion, after what was a quite powerful opening half. The vaguely poppy You Got Lucky is followed by the almost comatose Lose My Heart In You sort of symbolises this. It’s a nice relaxing change from the rest of the album though. I Will Go On is an anthemic, Celtic-feeling slow closer - soulful voice and soul organ and some crying slide guitar to sign off. Inspirational. Sometimes Chris Rea just hits the spot.

Overall, this is a quality piece of work throughout.



Road Songs For Lovers (2017)


Happy On The Road/Nothing Left Behind/Road Songs For Lovers/Money/Two Lost Souls/Rock My Soul/Moving On/The Road Ahead/Last Train/Angel Of Love/Breaking Point/Beautiful            
                     
Six years after his previous, bluesy album, Santo Spirito Blues, Chris Rea returned with a more mainstream, radio-friendly album. Yes, it still has that blues influence underpinning it, particularly in the opening song, Happy On The Road, but laid-back, melodic slowies like the beautiful Nothing Left Behind and the title track, Road Songs For Lovers see more of the AOR soft rock that endeared Rea to the Radio 2 crowd in the 1990s and early 2000s. It is immaculately played traditional low key rock. Firm drums, solid bass, nice piano, keyboards and occasional saxophone and, of course, Rea’s deep, evocative, soulful voice, which seems to get better with age.

Lyrically, it is all about couples travelling together, on the road, in cars on trains. However, the old blues conceits are never far from the surface - a track like Money (re-worked after being on the previous album) is a wonderful slice of contemporary blues rock. Industrial, powerful, thumping and lifted even higher by Rea’s trademark, piercing slide guitar. Great part at the conclusion of this song.

The Road Ahead is a similar, slide-enhanced rumbling, cooking blues. Last Train has another excellent slide ending. To be honest, Chris Rea seems capable of putting songs like this out in his sleep. You know what you’re going to get and if you like it, that’s great.

 

Upbeat, commercial, blues-influenced songs like Moving On  would not have sounded out of place on the “60s and 70s” album in the Blue Guitars collection. Nice brass backing and slightly funky guitar breaks.

This album avoids being buried in the blues, however, and there is always a traditional Chris Rea late night, smoochy ballad like the yearning Two Lost Souls, or Angel Of Love to counter the often blistering power of the blues tracks. In this respect it differs somewhat from the previous album. In many ways, it is a satisfying mix.




One Fine Day (2019)


Do You Still Dream?/Loving You/One Fine Day/One Sweet And Tender Touch/If I Ever Break Free/Sierra Sierra/Members Only/Let Me Be The One/One Night With You                           

This is an interesting release from Chris Rea, made up of previously unreleased versions of tracks that appeared on earlier albums, re-recorded b-sides and three "new" (previously unreleased in any form) tracks. All the recordings apparently date from 1980 but the tracks would appear to have been given a bit of a contemporary remastering because the sound quality is excellent. The albums contains  only nine tracks but it flows with an infectious rockiness that makes for a pleasant listen. If you like Rea's 1978-1982 poppy output then you will like this.

Do You Still Dream? originally appeared on 1982's Chris Rea album in a more laid-back, slower, piano-driven easy listening style. This version is much more rocky, full of muscle and solid riffs, transforming the song. They are both good, but the rockier version is my favourite. Loving You is from the same album and this unreleased version is a ballad, but a strong, chunky one. The originally released version of it is pretty similar to be fair. The newly released one has a bit more "oomph", however.

One Fine Day was originally a b side, I am not sure from which single and this is the only version of it I have heard. It is a typically laid-back, warm and summery On The Beach-style Rea song, enhanced by Latin-ish guitars and marimbas. One Sweet And Tender Touch also appeared on the Chris Rea album. It is presented here as a beautiful but strong slow and bluesy ballad. It contains a nice saxophone solo too. The one that appeared on the 1982 album is more wishy-washy but possibly better-suited to what was popular back then.

  

If I Ever Break Free is one of the previously unreleased ones and is an upbeat piece of gospel-influenced rock/soul. Sierra Sierra is a Latin-style rhythmic groove that was originally a b-side. Members Only is another "new" one and is a gently funky piece of soft rock. Its chorus is impressively riffy. There is something of later-era Bruce Springsteen about it. Also a bit Boss-like is the rocking previous ballad b side of Loving YouLet Me Be The One. This brings to mind Springsteen's 1977-1978 material, most of which appeared on the Tracks box set or The Promise compilation. Rea even sounds like Bruce on his vocal. The final "new" number is the Leonard Cohen-esque bar-room growl of One Night With You.

There is quite a variety in these tracks which makes this an album a bit different from many of Rea's releases, which often stuck to the same format. I really like it.




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