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Chris Rea returns with sublime "Road Songs For Lovers"

BMG / Art by Chris Rea
"Road Songs For Lovers" is the new album from Chris Rea.
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ALBUM REVIEW: Road Songs For Lovers by Chris Rea (BMG / Jazzee Blue) 2017

While Chris Rea’s first album in six years (Santo Spirito Blues, released in 2011) gets off to a galloping start with the carefree rocker “Happy On the Road,” Rea proceeds to keep a more mellow pace over the course of Road Songs For Lovers, an album that while more laidback, still highlights his sublime guitar work and his distinctive, gruff-but-smooth vocals.

After all, Chris Rea’s “beach” albums – On the Beach (1986) and King of the Beach (2000) are my two go-to albums during the summer, as I noted in this 2016 piece I wrote highlighting Rea’s appreciation of surf n’ sand and beautiful sunsets. He captures that feel and mood without being saccharine.

King of the Beach is Chris Rea's 2000 release. (East/West)

And for a guy who survived a bout of pancreatic cancer in 2001 and suffered a stroke just last year, I’m just impressed he is keeping a steady schedule of recording and touring.

As he told the Express newspaper in his native England this fall, when asked if he would sit in a chair while on stage during his upcoming tour, he scoffed, saying: “No! You can’t do that. I’d rather give up than do that.”

If only he were a bigger name here in the States. I was struck by Rea’s appeal this past spring while on a river cruise on the Rhone River in France. The onboard piano player, Gino, always got big applause from me when he would perform Rea’s jazzy/yacht-rocky “On the Beach” during cocktail hour. You would not hear that song here, I’m afraid.

And really since his 1989 album The Road to Hell he has not been a well-known name here, which is a shame. While he did have a more pop-oriented guitar approach earlier in his career, Rea has been doing more Clapton-esque blues guitar work of late.

Listen to Rea’s gritty slide guitar on “The Road Ahead,” along with some horns (duplicated on synthesizer?) that give it a swampy strut and a big ending with a fadeout.

The dreamy, romantic blues-pop sound of “Road Songs For Lovers” is in that vein that has made him so popular back in Europe, embracing a guitar/vocal style that magically paints a picture in your mind, evoking a place, a time, a memory. He's brilliant in this regard. He succeeds here on Road Songs For Lovers as he has done on his albums for years, or with seasonal songs like 1986's "Driving Home For Christmas" which my colleague heard today for the first time on her Spotify playlist and asked me, "Is this the guy you kept listening to this summer?" Yes, indeedy!

With drummer Martin Ditcham using brushes on a snare and cymbal, the mood on album standout “Last Train,” meanwhile, takes a darker turn, lyrically speaking. It’s delivered in gothic, world-weary style that brings to mind Bob Dylan or Tom Waits or Nick Cave – until the band gets a second wind before fading out and moving on to “Angel of Love," where Rea pleads to his significant other: "So angel of love / dance with me / Take this broken soul / And set him free." Rea's vocal on this one are very strong, mixed in there quite well, with that appealing percussion and Rea's simple, sexy slide. Also, kudos to Alex Robinson and Tim Young, who mastered the album in London.

Similar to the Gordon Lightfoot ballad of the same name, Rea's "Beautiful" is about a happy man thinking about that beautiful person by his side. It's heartfelt, jazzy (Neil Drinkwater's piano work is subtle and effective) and an absolutely excellent album closer.

All I can say, dear reader, is go get this record, or pick up some of Chris Rea's "best of" collections (there are several). He is a voice and a talent not to be missed or ignored. A true class act. And Road Songs For Lovers is another stellar addition to the expansive Rea discography.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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