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A "salty blue day" spent with Chris Rea's "King Of The Beach"

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Chris Rea's "King Of The Beach" album from 2000 is a "go-to" summer album.
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ALBUM REVIEW: Chris Rea – King Of The Beach (EastWest) 2000

When summer rolls around, a lot of folks like to cue up their favorite “summer music” albums, whether its Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Legend or any number of Beach Boys compilations out there.

For me, my go-to summer, “escape” album is one that doesn’t show up on many lists, but really should. I’m talking about the phenomenal 2000 release King Of The Beach by singer-songwriter and slide guitarist Chris Rea.

For starters, Rea’s husky voice and slide-guitar playing are quite distinctive. When you hear Chris Rea, it is hard to forget his gravelly-but-confident voice. I only became familiar with Rea’s work on his breakthrough The Road To Hell album released in 1989. That one featured the song “Texas,” which is a staple song at Texas Rangers baseball games.

The first track, the title track, is my favorite on this13-track album, which seems to be a nod to his earlier, 1986 album On The Beach, another solid Rea release. But then, Rea has had a successful career in the UK and elsewhere since at least the late 1970’s, although the 1980’s were his career heyday.

And as he notes in a 2006 interview, the man who intended on being a journalist and became a musician, “never intended on being a rock star or a pop star,” a lot like his guitar-playing contemporary Mark Knopfler, of Dire Straits. He had been inspired by American Delta blues musician, slide guitarist Charley Patton.

But King Of The Beach (inspired by a trip he made to Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean) has a more cohesive and casual vibe throughout, as the first verse in the opening title track indicates, setting the mood:

Let your fighting scars heal in the sun / Of a bright windy day / Let your cold blades sleep in the sand / Til it’s rusted away.”

The summery sounds continue on track two, “All Summer Long,” with the hauntingly gorgeous and slightly ethereal background vocals of Julie Isaac and Debbie Longworth repeating “turn it up.”

“Sail Away” has an end-of-summer bittersweetness about it, while “Still Beautiful” has an easy-listening and jazzy feel, enhanced, of course, by Rea’s characteristic voice. Just close your eyes and you feel as though you are on a moonlit beach, dancing with that special someone.

“The Memory of a Good Friend” has a more “island” feel, while maintaining a soulful, mellow, reggae groove.

But people are seasons / and seasons change” Rea sings, with a tinge of emotion in his voice.

And then there is the slinky, sexy “Sandwriting,” another beach-flavored number that stands among Rea’s best.

“Tamatave” has a bluesy feel, with more distinctive slide guitar work as he sings “Sit on the beach and watch the waves run.”

Long-time percussion collaborator Martin Ditcham is featured here with Rea playing most of the guitar, bass and keyboard parts. Rea, you should know, plays and writes because he loves to. There is no pressure here, and that “no pressure” feel is evident all over King Of The Beach.

Rea’s descriptive writing really comes through on “Waiting For A Blue Sky,” as he tells us of an older man sitting on the sand on a cloudy day, determined to greet a blue sky. Many of us have been there, I suspect.

Even with the more musically punchy songs like “Who Do You Love” and “Guitar Street,” Rea stays true to King Of The Beach’s dreamy and nostalgic atmosphere. And "Mississippi" really syncs with me, as he alludes to the lure of that river and the blues music it inspired, which, in turn, inspired Rea to begin his own musical journey all of those years ago.

Interestingly, Rea had a cancer scare shortly after King Of The Beach was released. But he took to painting, which makes sense since painting seems to play a role in his artwork, as the gorgeous King Of The Beach album cover, painted by the late John Miller, indicates.

And in an interview, talking about the writing and recording of King Of The Beach, Rea said that he had reached a new point of “happiness” after his trip to the islands and noticed how the relaxed environment seemed to change people after spending time on their holiday.

“(King Of The Beach) is about reaching a point where you know that material things don’t make happiness.”

Indeed. That’s a great way to describe what a trip to the beach does for me. And King Of The Beach is a great musical companion for those journeys.

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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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