Monday, 5 October 2020

Chris Rea - Blue Cafés & Guitars (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 roots 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 it does - 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.




No comments:

Post a comment