EXPLODING ONTO THE scene back in 1988 with hit debut See The Light, Jeff Healey was a musician who, once witnessed, was never forgotten. With his Strat laid in his lap, steel-style, he elicited stunning, Hendrixian riffs and solos. His voice was the real deal and his writing was a league apart from the bar-room blues of many peers. Above all, he had soul, his resolve running like steel through his all-too-brief career.
Healey, who would have been 50 this March, died in 2008, and as posthumous releases go, Heal My Soul is in a class all its own. Approved by his estate and exec-produced by his close friend Roger Costa, this lovingly restored 12-song set is drawn from the demos and half-finished recordings he had in his locker when The Jeff Healey Band split circa 2000’s patchy-at-best Get Me Some.
From opener Daze Of The Night his stock-in-trade catchy writing and muscular riffs are here in abundance. Moodswing literally swings: beneath its flanged chords and Cream-y falsetto chorus harmonies is a story about containing the beast within. Put The Shoe On The Other Foot is a funky mid-tempo groove with fiery axe lines, huge bends and one mean wah solo, while Under A Stone (‘I’ve got this weight on my shoulder that’s dragging me down to my knees’) is Santana-jazzy, with its own raw, fat instrumental. The Bon Jovi-ish Temptation is slight but fun, its ersatz-metal chord progression and wilfully chaotic outro ending with Healey cracking up with laughter.
Comparatively by-the-numbers, Love In Her Eyes might well reflect the guitarist’s latter-day disaffection with blues (he went on to switch to trad-jazz and trumpet). Please, however, reads like a lusty flipside to his version of John Hiatt’s Angel Eyes – the same night as seen by a jealous guy at the other end of the bar. Indeed, the brooding version of Richard Thompson’s I Misunderstood is a reminder of what a strong interpreter of others’ material he was.
It’s when the amps are lowest that Heal My Soul casts its spell strongest. God only knows why Baby Blue didn’t make it onto a record in Healey’s lifetime. His gravelly voice was rarely this openhearted. With acoustic guitars laced with understated lead lines, warm harmonised vocals deliver a timeless moral of taking nothing for granted. The stunning centrepiece, All The Saints is similarly sparse with plaintive lyrics about a loved one being ‘like an empty canvas hanging on the wall’. The album closer is also its most replete song. Heartfelt, cultivated and adult, It’s The Last Time has a compelling lyrical twist (‘It’s the last time, until the next time’), making you wonder just what was going on in his life, and mind, at the time.
Costa deserves credit for the elegant production job on a record that only enhances Healey’s legend. More than being a classy birthday celebration, Heal My Soul might be the best-sounding, most complete album of his career. Which is a wonderful, bittersweet surprise.