Chris Rea

Santo Spirito Blues

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Never one to do things by halves, gravelly voiced guitarist Chris Rea continues the prolific and rather maverick streak which has recently seen him record an 11-disc "history of the blues," and an album under the guise of a fictional '50s instrumental band: that being his 23srd studio effort Santo Spirito Blues. Released in a CD/DVD package alongside a documentary on bullfighting and a black-and-white, Florence-based drama about redemption, (both of which feature separate, original soundtracks) -- the first release since his Still So Far to Go compilation unexpectedly returned him to the U.K. Top Ten -- attempts to build on its momentum with 13 quintessentially Rea blues-rock numbers. The muted percussion, country guitar hooks, and triumphant brass section of "Electric Guitar" help provide yet another ode to his instrument of choice; the classic, chugging riffs driving the rhythms and upbeat melodies of "Dancing My Blues Away" and "Rock and Roll Tonight" could have been lifted from his late-'80s/early-'90s heyday; while there are unashamed nods to the Rolling Stones on the harmonica-driven "Never Tie Me Down," and to Dire Straits on the melancholic jazz-rock of "The Chance of Love." However, there are a few surprising, left-field touches which compensate for the plodding slow blues of the Kate Moss-inspired "The Way She Moves" and the formulaic boogie rock of "The Last Open Road." The booming basslines, electro beats, and twanging guitars of "Dance with Me All Night Long" have an unexpected hint of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" about it; the timely "Money" opens with an ambient jazz intro before turning into a banjo-plucking slice of country-blues; while "You Got Lucky" is a feel-good, Hammond organ-led, honky tonk number which is sure to rouse a few barrooms around his former Middlesbrough hometown. Santo Spirito Blues' overall ambitious concept proves that the just-turned-sixty-year-old certainly no longer holds any commercial aspirations, but the main disc's resolutely old-fashioned feel suggests the upper reaches of the charts may be beckoning once again.

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