Album of the Week 50-2016: Chris Rea – The Return Of The Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes


More than three decades after his biggest successes, Chris Rea only does whatever he wants. Freed from the shackles of label pressure and being given a second chance after pancreatic cancer nearly took his life, Rea went back to the blues that has inspired him since he started playing guitar in his early twenties. Often employing a theme as the framework for his later records, ‘The Return Of The Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes’ is a tribute to the importance of the relatively cheap Hofner guitars for the development of British sixties music. The music, however, is pure, unadulterated Chris Rea blues.

Rea was always too much of a songwriter – and a really good one at that – to be taken seriously by fans of the delta blues that influenced him strongly, but that’s also what makes his music so interesting. Sure, in the eighties, producers often smoothed his sound to the point that there was more pop than blues, but his slide guitar playing is full of bluesy soul. And then there’s the voice. His sandpaper vocal cords are instantly recognizable and therefore, it’s difficult to categorize ‘The Return Of The Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes’ as anything else than a Chris Rea record.

However flawed it is as a period piece – save for the Shadows-like instrumentals of the fictional group The Delmonts – the songs are amazing. That’s also where Rea’s songwriting comes in: these aren’t just vehicles for live jamming, a considerable amount of effort has gone into the structure, atmosphere and attention span of these songs. Especially when Rea and his rhythm section of Colin Hodgkinson (bass) and Martin Ditcham (drums) adopt a somewhat more laidback approach, like they do in ‘I Will Be With You’ and ‘The Shadow Of A Fool’, something magic happens. It’s almost as if Rea whispers incantations.

‘Blues For Janice’ is the album’s highlight. In essence, the song isn’t that much different than some of Rea’s eighties hit songs, but the rawer approach gives the song an air of sincerity that you don’t often hear anymore. It’s great how the rawness of Rea’s guitar enhances the dreamy atmosphere of the song rather than clashing with it. Other songs, like ‘Legacy Blues’ and ‘Don’t Give Your Ace Away’ have a rhythmic drive that is a trademark of Rea’s later work. It’s remarkable how much variation there is on the record; there are elements of blues, rock, jazz, pop and soul throughout the record, but the unique sound never really becomes one of each.

Whether you get the trimmed down version on one cd or the huge audio book version where The Delmonts can be heard on one cd and the Hofner Bluenotes on the other – in case it wasn’t clear, it’s all Rea, Hodgkinson and Ditcham – there’s enough variation and good songwriting going on to keep any listener interested all throughout its length. Like any of Chris Rea’s latter day albums, ‘The Return Of The Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes’ is full of great, blues-inspired music that doesn’t care if it’s marketable or if it fits any category. That’s how the best records get made.

Recommended tracks: ‘Blues For Janice’, ‘The Shadow Of A Fool’, ‘Legacy Blues’

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