After forking over your 55 euro, what do you get? Eleven CDs, one DVD and 30 paintings, all presented in a coffee table book. This whole high-class affair goes by Blue Guitars and is the result of working for 18 months 12 hours a day, seven days a week, of one man and his band. The man is Chris Rea. The band is Martin Ditchman, Gerry O'Connor, Robert Ahwai, Silvin Marc, Eric Seva and Rafakat Ali. Chris Rea, you might wonder. Isn't that the guy of "Driving Home For Christmas" and "On The Beach", songs that are played to annoying death on any radio station around the world?
Yes, that's the same Rea. However, Chris Rea has another side far more complex than cheery Xmas and California-living beach vibes. That other side is where the blues roots deeply. After a period of serious health problems, Rea dove deep for his musical roots, especially after the realization clicked that almost every musical style today has some connection to the Blues. Being quite obsessive by temperament, Rea had to get to the bottom of this phenomenon so he went out and bought almost every book on the subject extant. After this assessment, the real work began. Chris picked up one of his guitars and started writing. In these songs, he follows the Blues from its origins in Africa to the sad journey that takes the music to the Americas where the Blues evolves and blends with other styles. The music Rea writes is not a true historical overview, however. It's a personal look at the timeline of the Blues.
During the process of writing and rehearsing the songs with the band over and over until perfect, Chris still finds time for more. When the other band members study their scores, Rea works on paintings that will serve as album covers. Each painting thus reflects the contents of the CD it covers. On almost every painting, at least one -- blue -- guitar features, stylistically reminiscent of the Primitives.
The finished project thus divides into 11 parts or records. Each is Rea's interpretation of a particular period or style of the Blues, from the African roots on Beginnings via Country Blues, Louisiana & New Orleans, Electric Memphis Blues and Texas Blues to Chicago Blues, Blues Ballads, Gospel Soul Blues & Motown, Celtic & Irish Blues, Latin Blues to 60s and 70s variants.
The book, slightly smaller than an LP cover, begins after the two pages that hold the first 8 CDs with two large paintings. The first painting creates the most powerful emotional response as it depicts a stylized slave with ball and chain. If any picture can capture the Blues, this is the one. Following is an interview with Rea on the project. After the interview, an introduction of the first CD explains more about the instruments used and the lyrics. Those follow on the subsequent pages, with every CD getting its own introduction followed by complete lyrics.
In total, Blue Guitars collects no less than 137 songs which themselves are extracted from all the songs Rea wrote for the project. One would expect that such an overabundance produced over a compacted period would no doubt end up being terribly repetitive in both scores and lyrics. Not. Blue Guitars keeps the interest high from the first CD to the last. If so inspired, playing over 10 hours of this music straight through keeps the mind focused because each song is fascinating in its own right. It's the personal touches that Rea adds to all the songs that fix the attention. Nowhere do he or his band fall back on the simple back porch stomp'n'twang too many so-called Blues artists mistake for authentic Blues. It is clear -- and Rea makes it clear -- that the blues pervades everything in American musical history. And thus Africa is omnipresent in this music as well.
Rea expresses these connections not only in the tunes and sung word but the use of instruments. A photo spread displays many of the actual instruments used in classy black and white. First off, Chris Rea is a guitarist and in particular, a slide guitarist. The guitars featuring on Blue Guitars vary widely. From Chris' first guitar, a 28 British Pound Hofner Solid to a blue '62 Strat and various dobros back to a forefather of the guitar, the banjo and even farther back in time, to the kora, Rea even steps outside stylistic periods and adds a Fender Remolux and Supra Baby to let the song rather than style or period dictate the arrangement.
If you can hear something resembling a finger-piano tone in a Motown song, why not use the instrument for real? This tasteful expansionist selection of instruments beautifully complements Chris' baritone through which he expresses pain and sorrow in a powerful fashion. Or how about the fascinating combination of slide guitar and accordion?
The Blue Guitars project proves that when a musician is on a sacred mission, he can do without the big record companies. The present combination of a vast amount of great music, the quality of musicianship on tap and the gorgeous book-style presentation is unprecedented at this price. For every lover of good music and for all guitar aficionados in particular, Blue Guitars is an absolute must. Thus Blue Guitars deserve -- what a coincidence -- a Blue Moon Award. We're feeling soo blue now...