Chris Rea was a rock star with the sort of gravel voice that was ideally suited to singing the blues, or was he a blues star who occasionally lent his talent to performing rock. The Road to Hell & Back was his 28th album in total including five different greatest-hits compilations, but was his first live album. Recorded at various venues during his 2006 tour from Warsaw to Moscow and Plymouth, Oxford and Brighton, all the tracks show a tight, together band, the Fireflies led by Chris Rea, not in the best of health but enjoying performing to appreciative, sometimes too polite audiences, who applaud in all the right places (at the end of each song). Amazingly for an artist with such a famous repertoire of songs, he had only ever hit the Top Ten of the singles chart with one song, "The Road to Hell. Pt. 2" and along with its slower precursor, "Pt. 1," is included here along with Chris Rea favorites, "Josephine," "Stainsby Girls," "On the Beach," (on which he broke into some Bob Marley type reggae), "Let's Dance," and his first-ever hit single "Fool If You Think It's Over." Opening the set with a Jools Holland type of boogie-woogie with the track "Jazzy Blue," the band, almost as if in keeping with the politeness of the audiences, play a minimalist set, almost acoustic. "Josephine" takes almost four minutes to warm up, and "Stony Road" chugs slowly along until the guitar breaks in after nearly three minutes, but the tracks are given time to mature and develop. Both "I Can Hear Your Heartbeat" with its Dire Straits type guitar licks, and the two parts of "The Road to Hell" are over ten minutes each and "Stainsby Girls" and "Somewhere Between Highway 61 And 49" are both extended to over eight minutes, the former showing that the band can most definitely rock, and the latter giving the blues a chance to really grind the audience into believing they could really be somewhere in the Mississippi Delta instead of the Moscow Kremlin Palace watching a man from Middlesbrough, a town in the North East of England.
AllMusic Review by Sharon Mawer