Bob Rea wants you to know one thing: he tells the truth. On Ragged Choir, he delivers 14 tales full of truth, soul and optimism that mine his lifetime of experience, songs that often explore the darker corners of the American psyche.! "I can't embrace the jackpot mentality of the music business, I don’t care about hits and I’m too old not to sing the truth,” the 59-year-old singer/songwriter and guitarist says, “If you’re going to write a song, you have to say something.”
And Rea has plenty to say.
Rea’s clear-eyed visions of life’s darker side bristle with authority because he’s lived the life he sings about. He’s been a homeless wanderer and a pool hall hustler, played in roughneck country bands across the great Southwest and been a regular performer at bars and clubs near his hometown of Durango, Colorado. He’s been a cattle rancher, a builder of log cabins and mansions, a general contractor, and just about every thing that's hard to do in between. He’s experienced bankruptcies, divorces, incarcerations, and years or working long hours to provide for his family, living through the hard times and tribulations that give his songs their hard-edged wisdom.
Through all this he raised his two children. "That's the thing that I will always be proudest of" he says. "Sometimes we didn't have much of anything but we didn't seemto notice. We lived in a run down trailer out in the sticks but it taught us how to blend humility with dignity. Now we look back on that beat up hunk of tin like it was a sanctuary." Rea’s weathered baritone and down home picking is as authentically country as you can get, with a love of folk, bluegrass and blues that contributes to his singular style.
Producer Tim Lorsch drafted a first rate band to support Rea on Ragged Choir. Players include guitarist Blue Miller (India.Arie); steel guitar player Mike Daley (Hank Williams, Jr.); Austin, TX stand up bass legend Dave Carroll; Dennis Gage (T. Graham Brown) on organ; multi-instrumentalist George Bradfute (Garth Brooks, Steve Earle) and Mickey Grimm of Over the Rhine on drums. “The band really clicked in the studio,” Rea says.
“We knocked out most of the songs on the first take. They sound exactly like I imagined them, only better.”
Ragged Choir kicks off with “Stand Up.” Rea’s opening recitation is almost Biblical, his apocalyptic visions fleshed out by the band’s dark, swampy groove and the Gospel drenched backing vocals of Roxie Dean. “Platinum Dream” deals with the current economic downturn. Rea’s surrealistic poetry and understated vocal are complimented by Wage’s Hammond B3 organ, giving the track the feel of a 60s folk-rock tune. “The Careful Song” is a catalogue of life’s tribulations, but Rea’s tongue in cheek delivery makes it more comedy, than tragedy.
“Wretched Soul,” a co-write with Steve Styles, is about judgment and redemption, with a strong vocal and the band playing with a threatening Chicago-style bluesy feel. “Coure d'Alene” has the album’s most spirited playing, with Daley’s Dobro, producer Tim Lorsch's fiddle, and Rea’s animated vocal and guitar goosing the tempo along. “Someday’s Gone” is a moody bluegrass flavored tune about missed opportunities; Daley’s moaning lowboy steel guitar plays off against Chris Joslin’s banjo.
Other strong tracks: “Dead River Blues,” a folkyshowcase for Rea’s guitar and vocals, with the overdubbed sound of a needle on an old 78 RPM record giving the song a vintage feel; the bleak talking blues of “A Long Way Up;” the almost straightforward country of “My Getaway” and “Lights Out,” a grim yet unflinching ballad about life in jail. Yet through the thread of dark and sometimes sad stories his wry humor still brings a twinkle of hope. He is clearly a man who does not give up and who is not afraid to try.
“The songs are more universal, and reflect less of my own life,” he says about his creative process. “I'm more interested in writing about the human condition and the changes that are happening right now in the United States and the world. There’s a massive shift happening in our values and our way of life. Wealth has proven to be a fickle God and the realization of that infidelity is creating a great deal of turmoil."
Rea’s first album, Black Highway, made waves on Americana radio and was well received in the UK. Lord Litter, who rivals the late John Peel for his impeccable taste in underground music, called it “the coolest outlaw-ish, Southern-rock-spiced release in ages.” The record also did well in Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium. Ragged Choir is an extension of the work on his debut, Black Highway, but the songs hit harder. Rea’s expressive baritone is more powerful and the album has the organic feel of old friends playing tunes they’ve know all their lives. “My life and my songs have been a process of continual evolution,” Rea says. “Some force on the other side channels these songs to me. I’m not impressed with money; I only worry about it when I'm running out of it. The idea of writing songs that are soap opera simple doesn’t move me. That’s not my motivation. No matter how the wind blows I’m going to sing the truth.”
What People Are Saying About Bob
The coolest, outlaw-ish, Southern-rock-spiced release in ages.
— Lord Litter
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