pop-coverExcess and desperation certainly have their place in rock music, so does packaging. What in hell do these three all have in common? Chris Rea. Right, that British guitar slinger guy who was ubiquitous on MTV during the late 1980s and 1990s. He released hit after hit in Europe and Asia, and did marginally well on these shores with albums like On the Beach, The Road to Hell, and Auberge to mention just three.

Some years back, Rea, who has had enough health problems and surgeries to fill a lifetime, and as a result knows there's no time to be fooling with the nonsense of record companies, told his major label to shove it. He released a record called Dancing Down the Stony Road that they didn't want in a beautiful package, and scored big time in Europe and Asia. Then came an epiphany. Rea suddenly understood something about making and presenting music in the digital age: that you had to really give something to the listener for them to seek you out in the mass media swamp, provide an object that could be collected and treasured -- it's kinda hard to do on an iPod -- something tangible to hold on to and refer to in the way many of us did in the vinyl age. He started his own label called Jazzee Blue, issued an 11-CD/single-DVD set called Blue Guitars, packaged together with a huge hardbound book, that included his reproductions of his paintings, and music that covered every kind of blues Rea and his band could play. Priced very reasonably, it sold 160,00 units. He assembled a compilation in the form of a standard double disc called The Blue Jukebox; it too sold well.

blog image 1Rea’s new project takes the cake, however: The Return of the Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes is an exercise in myth and music making and a wonder of modern packaging. Rea has created the account of two mythical bands: the Delmonts, an instrumental guitar band from the late '50s and early '60s that played all manner of surf, dance, and easy listening instrumental library music; and the Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes, a vocal blues group who evolved out of the Delmonts into something more long-lasting, gritty, and sophisticated. The package contains two 10-inch LPs by the Delmonts, a CD of their work for the modern listener, and a pair of discs by the Bluenotes. The book, some 80 pages and chock full of vintage photos of guitars from Hofner, Northern English working class life, lyrics, a phony bio-essay that is quite convincing, and some of Rea’s paintings. It is contained in an LP-sized hardbound book that looks seasoned by age and, to make it even more authentic, it SMELLS like it’s been sitting in a basement for 40 years!!! This is enough for most folks -- me included -- but the music is something else again; the Bluenotes material, while primarily blues-based, contains some of Rea’s strongest songs, from ballads to snarlers and raucous, gritty, 12-bar blues grooves. The Delmonts material, while recorded beautifully, is a solid album of wildly faring instrumental guitar madness that blends everything from the Ventures, Alan Hawkshaw, and Alan Parker to late '50s orchestral jazz, spy, and teensploitation faux-soundtrack music. Add to this a very reasonable price -- even though it’s an import, some of the bigger online retailers sell it for as little as $50 -- and it becomes a stunning document not only for the sake of having something heavy and rather precious in your hands, but as a visual landscape for the killer tracks within it.

The Delmonts
008 Jimmy Bond
Big Storm Coming
Theme for a Pink Guitar

The Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes
Renaissance Blues
Because It's You
The Shadow of a Fool
Blues for Janice
Yes I Do