Jeff Healey - Mess of Blues

Jeff Healey
Mess of Blues

(Stony Plain)

First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2008, Volume 15, #11

Written by John Metzger

Wed November 19, 2008, 06:30 AM CST


Jeff Healey had to deal with the ravages of cancer almost since the day he was born. As an infant, the disease took his eyesight; 41 years later, it took his life. Through his own personal perseverance, however, he managed to overcome all of the obstacles that were placed his path, and in the process, he became a first-rate guitarist and an internationally known performer. Nearly a decade ago, Healey surprised everyone when he walked away from it all to become an ambassador of sorts for long forgotten jazz and blues recordings. It seems unfair, then, that just as he returned to the rock world, his career had to come to a crashing end.

Mess of Blues, Healey’s latest endeavor, was released posthumously, just a few short weeks after his untimely passing. Considering it is composed of a mixture of live and studio recordings, which run the gamut from Hank Williams’ Jambalaya to Neil Young’s Like a Hurricane to the Leonard Feather-penned standard How Blue Can You Get, the album ought to feel completely disjointed and out of synch. Despite its hodgepodge construction, however, the collection actually holds together remarkably well, which is a testament, no doubt, to Healey’s panoramic view of the blues.

At times on Mess of Blues, Healey plays the material very straight. There is, for example, no risk at all in his rendition of The Band’s seminal song The Weight. Yet, aside from the fact that it goes nowhere that countless other versions of the tune already haven’t been, Healey manages to make it work for him. There is no hesitancy in his approach, and by placing it between his New Orleans-tinged cover of Jambalaya and his Elvis Presley-in-a-roadhouse take on Mess O’ Blues, he finds his own way of illuminating the Robbie Robertson-penned track from within.

The real highlights on Mess of Blues, however, occur whenever Healey takes his time in relaying the material. He never really reinvents anything, but he does take ownership over the songs by delivering them with confidence and conviction. Despite his decision in recent years to forsake the blues-rock fury of his roots, Healey has returned full-force, without skipping a beat. Most important, his artistic maturity lent him a better perspective for tackling many of the well-known cuts that are featured on the set: I’m Torn Down bristles with energy; How Blue Can You Get is filled with slow-burning anguish; and Sittin’ on Top of the World oscillates between lazy yearning and heated intensity. Laced with blistering performances on guitar and keyboards, Mess of Blues captures the sound of a bar band at the peak of its abilities. There may be nothing fancy about it, but the enjoyment of everyone involved in the project makes it all worthwhile. starstarstar ½


Of Further Interest...

Eric Bibb - Painting Signs

Otis Rush - Any Place I'm Going

Muddy Waters - Hard Again


Mess of Blues is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2008 The Music Box