Bob Rea is one of those artists that begs the question of why he is not better known. After three exceptional albums that glean influences from Guy Clark, Bob Dylan, Tom Russell, Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle, John Stewart and John Prine, he's established a steadfast Everyman stance that tears right to the heart of well worn emotions and experiences learned from a life well lived as a decidedly rugged, resilient troubadour.
"Southbound" begins with the title track, a restive ode to the endless highways life bids us to follow. It's a rousing intro, well placed to ensure he's got the listener's attention locked in. The tangled tales that follow - the parched but perceptive "Soldier On," the half-spoken reflection of "Say Goodnight," the "Highway 61"-era purely Dylan-esque delivery of "The Highway Never Cries," the weary honky tonk of "Screw Cincinnati" - all attest to the essence of his authoritative delivery, a determined troubadour whose path leads him to accept certain difficult truths as a means of accomplishing his honest endeavors. "Southbound" is the kind of album that begs repeated listens, simply because each of its songs are so compelling, so flush with conviction, that to ignore them would prove a grave injustice to all.
Ultimately, Rea is a master of what's best described as a deliberative delivery, an unassuming style that puts him good company with all those artists mentioned above. He varies his tone, but his forthright approach never wavers. The ache and insistence of a song like "Whisper of an Angel" is practically palpable, not only in his assertive vocals, but in the shimmering arrangements and rich resilience that surround him. His clear commitment - to his music, to his path forward, to the messages he's meant to impart - neither fails nor falters, and for that he deserves high commendation.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer based in Maryville, Tenn. Visit him at his Americana music web site Stories Beyond the Music.