Chris Rea, the veteran blues guitarist, occupies an ‘interesting’ position, musically. His best-known songs – evergreen festive classic Driving Home For Christmas, Fool (If You Think It’s Over) and especially On The Beach – come from the earlier part of his career, when record companies and producers dumbed down his music into enjoyable, but bland, pop. More recently, Rea has been free to indulge his skills as a monster of a guitar player, operating under his own Jazzee Blue label and putting out great, rootsy blues records.
This album doesn’t quite fit into either segment of Rea’s career though. It’s the soundtrack of the La Passione film which he wrote, produced and scored back in 1995, before it was co-opted by his record company Warners and clumsily adapted into a product that he thoroughly disliked. With the rights back in his hands and a new, extended version of the film now available, the 2015 version of La Passione should by rights be the sound of Chris Rea completely unleashed.
Well, if that’s actually what this is, it’s surprisingly tame stuff, especially as the subject matter – vintage Formula 1 racing – usually demands pretty robust accompanying music. There’s not much of Rea’s awe- inspiring blues-wailing in evidence: the 14 songs are largely orchestral, a reflection of the film’s nostalgic tone. Instead, piano and strings dominate, although Rea does sing and add guitar lines from time to time, as on the quirky, burlesque Olive Oil.
This is not to say that La Passione is all mellow, self-indulgent slush: it isn’t, although there’s a bit too much of that for comfort. Only To Fly 1 is a terrific, hooky ballad – although a dance remix, Only To Fly 2, is extremely incongruous in this context – and Dov’e Il Signore showcases Rea’s deft arranging skills for choir and strings. You have to admire the man’s obvious talent for accompanying visuals with evocative music, so make sure you get to see the film itself, in which Rea makes plain his fascination with a long-gone era of motor racing which those of similar tastes will undoubtedly enjoy. Conversely, if you can’t tell the front end of a Ferrari from the back end of a Porsche, you’d be better off sticking with Rea’s more guitar-heavy albums.