Jeff Healey

Jeff Healey
Mess Of Blues

Ruf Records and Stony Plain Records (Canada)

By Brian D. Holland
April 2008

Jeff Healey's latest release, Mess of Blues, is slated for an April 22nd release on Ruf Records (internationally,) and Stony Plain Records (in Canada.) His first blues-rock release in eight years, it's split between recent studio recordings, a couple recorded live at his Roadhouse club in Toronto, and a couple recorded live at the Islington Academy in London.

Though some like to think that great musicians are elevated to a status of eminent legend once they're deceased, that announcement would be redundant in Jeff Healey's case. He was already an authentic legend before the fact.

Back in 1988, when he released his debut album, See the Light, listeners knew immediately that they were hearing greatness for the first time. The fact that he rested his Fender Stratocaster on his lap like a lap-steel and played all of the chordal and fretboard formations in an approach all his own rendered him truly innovative and courageous to guitar players and music fans everywhere.

He became an authentic six-string hero instantly.

The fact that he was blinded before the age of one from a rare cancer, the sole significance in forcing him to develop such an atypical playing style, shed a light of reverence on his amazing talent. Though he went on to live a rewarding and fruitful existence - garnering respect and admiration from fellow musicians and fans worldwide - cancer once again surfaced, taking him at the age of 41 on March 2nd, 2008.

The shining light to the story is that his musical legacy will live on, and his memory will fill the minds and hearts of many for years to come.

Mess Of Blues is very much a part of that legacy.

The disc is a collection of classic blues songs and a few good old bluesy rockers, most of which were live favorites of Jeff Healey fans. The album opens with a rollicking rendition of “I'm Tore Down,” with Jeff's scorching lead work adorning the whole song. The band then slows it down for an eight-minute version of “How Blue Can You Get.” They display an ability to connect in this slow blues classic, and show that they're at home in authentic blues territory. The rhythm guitar playing of Dan Noordermeer and the keyboard work of Dave Murphy are prominent here. Healey drives it home in the latter part of the song with a sweet and terse lead solo, an attribute of a genuine bluesman.

They take the audience out of Toronto and down to bayou country in “Jumbalaya,” with bassist Alec Fraser on the vocals. The classic Americana song segues nicely into the earthy “The Weight,” a respectful cover that easily would appease The Band and writer Robbie Robertson.

“Mess O Blues” comes across as the pivotal blues song on the album, as solid musicianship completes this concise, vibrant number. Jeff's licks flow fluidly alongside his spirited voice. Pianist Dave Murphy is all over his own composition, “It's Only Money,” vocally and instrumentally. His electrifying piano phrasing, in the vein of Jerry Lee Lewis, lights the room on fire. Jeff cuts loose in the latter part of the song with a scorching lead solo.

An interesting rendition of Neil Young's “Like A Hurricane” transpires next, one of only a couple of tracks that stray from blues territory on the album. The band enters slow blues mode for “Sittin' On Top Of The World,” which highlights the talents of both Healey and Murphy once again. The album is complete with a rollicking “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.”

Mess Of Blues is an exciting collection from the Jeff Healey Band. In the liner notes Jeff wrote: “I am most grateful to Thomas Ruf for making it possible for me to record this CD, a straightforward, straight-ahead collection of performances by a band of which I'm very proud to be a part.”

We all thank you, Jeff, for bestowing upon us a lot of great music over the years. Thanks for the memories.

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