Live review: Chris Rea, Usher Hall

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There is an almost uncanny recurrence of road references in Chris Rea’s songs, whether he’s dancing down stony ones or navigating highways between the Devil and the Bible.

While it has certainly made him the go-to guy for producers of dad-rock driving albums, it also underlines the fact that what you don’t go looking for from Rea is trailblazing originality.

The years since his late 1980s pomp haven’t been too kind on the Middlesborough singer, both in terms of critical credibility and health.

Tonight, though, was a chance for his true fans to revel in his famously husky vocals – still as rich and powerful as ever – and extensive back catalogue of soft rock. The Teeside-via-Tennessee crooner was touring his latest album Santo Spirito Blues, in which he continues his more recent obsession with the deep south, and while this new material afforded him ample opportunity to showcase his signature bottleneck playing, it was always going to be tracks like Stainsby Girls and especially The Road to Hell (prefaced by a mournful guitar solo and accompanied by a phalanx of swooping red light beams) which would form the centrepiece of the occasion.

Rea’s predictable lyricism and lounge rock stylings mean he has never strayed anywhere near the vanguard, but his two weapons of choice are his choppy blues riffs and unmistakable voice. These alone ensured that this was an enjoyable trip down the middle of the road.

Rating: ***