As blues homage this can’t be faulted, but Rea doesn’t allow his great voice to shine.
Luke Turner 2011
Always beware the senior rock musician who becomes too fascinated with the intricacies of his craft. Chris Rea has already released one album devoted to a guitar, 2008 ‘comeback’ album The Return of the Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes, along with the whopping 137-track Blues Guitars collection that appeared in 2005 following his battle with pancreatitis.
Santo Spirito Blues, then, follows a similar trusty, hoary old path. The cover art, a painting of a blue guitar that you might find in a Spanish art gallery aimed at English tourists, points to this, as do track titles that are straight out of the canon – Rock and Roll Tonight, The Last Open Road, Electric Guitar, and so on.
As a straightforward homage to blues traditionalism, Santo Spirito Blues can’t really be faulted. Rea’s playing is exemplary, his songwriting accomplished, the boxes ticked. Yet it’s hard not to feel that there’s something missing from the endeavour.
Money starts with atmospheric jazz, complete with added vinyl scratches, but becomes lost in bombast, lyrics that run "it’s all about the money!" feeling a little too close to the bone. Electric Guitar is in the tradition of songs devoted to the six string, strangely male, and doing a merry dance with lyrical cliché: "Got me a box with a speaker / Gonna make that angel sing", "Every song about a railway track / Every song about not going back", and so on. With the master of modernising the blues, Tom Waits, about to return with a new album, Rea unfortunately strays too far into pastiche.
What’s frustrating is that there is one standout track here that shows just what Rea is capable of when he’s not overly focussed on playing, and eulogising, the guitar. Alright, so The Chance of Love is remarkably similar to Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing, but it’s a pacy, heady track reminiscent of Rea at his 80s best. Crucially, the simple guitar lines and sax allow his greatest asset, that gravelly voice, to breathe. It’s a shame that, elsewhere in this album, it so struggles to be heard.