Friday, May 27, 2016

Album Review: Jimbo Mathus' Band of Storms (2016)

Jimbo Mathus' Band of Storms
Roots ‘n’ blues artist Jimbo Mathus has certain stayed busy the last few years. Befitting his heightened status as an Americana icon, the talented journeyman has released five solo albums in as many years, including last year’s excellent Blue Healer. Mathus teamed up with his British counterpart Ian Siegal for a 2014 U.K. tour which resulted in the Wayward Sons live album, released earlier this year. And now, courtesy of the good folks at Big Legal Mess and Fat Possum Records, we have Band of Storms, a nine-song Mathus EP that’s available exclusively on glorious black vinyl and as a digital download.

The cover artwork of Band of Storms is by Erika Jane Amerika, the artist capturing the vibe of these songs with her portrait of Mathus standing in a cypress swamp – guitar in one hand and a fiery bible in the other – with an alligator at his feet alongside his Catahoula dog and a snake-handling Yemayá (the “great mother” of Santeria religion). The outsider folk cover artwork of Band of Storms accurately portrays the themes of Jimbo’s songs; musically, clocking in at around 23 minutes, Band of Storms offers Mathus’ typical inspired mix of roots-rock, blues, R&B, honky-tonk country, and outré Americana.

Jimbo Mathus’ Band of Storms

The party kicks off with the strong “Gringo Man,” a lowdown, funky romp with blazing horns courtesy of saxophonist Jim Spake and trumpeter Stu Cole. The song’s boogie-flavored rhythms flow around Mathus’ vocals, providing a swaying backdrop for his thin, piercing guitar licks. The New Orleans blues of “Can’t Get Much Higher” draw upon the legendary Professor Longhair for inspiration, Eric Carlton’s jazzy piano stomp providing a fine counterpoint to Mathus’ twangy, patois-strewn vocals, which would sound right at home blaring from a Bourbon Street juke.

The country-flavored “Play With Fire,” co-written by Mathus with his late friend Robert Earl Reed, is one magnificent bastard of a song. Mathus’ somber, low-register vocals remind of the great Johnny Cash, the song’s brilliant lyrical imagery heightened by the singer’s passion in delivering this sparse tale of “devil may care,” living life to the fullest. The song’s sparse instrumentation is just enough to drive the spike home. Slowing down the pace even further, Mathus’ “Stop Your Crying” is a wayward hybrid of Dylan, the Band, Robert Johnson, and a hundred years of American music. A classic old-school murder ballad with centuries old roots, the song offers slow-burning, Tom Petty-styled vocals with swelling cascades of harmony and dense instrumentation.

Mass of Confusion

A ramshackle sonic assault, “Massive Confusion” is a greasy garage-blues rave-up with a sly nod towards 1960s’ psychedelic rock, the song roaring through your speakers like a freight train rattling down the tracks with double-tap drumbeats and scraped guitar strings that create a head-shaking miasma of sound. “Wayward Wind” is as close to an authentic modern ballad as Mathus gets on Band of Storms, the tune a tumbleweed-strewn lament with gritty, sandpaper vocals and anguished lyrics that come across as more earnest and sincere than one might believe at first blush. The instrumentation displays a slight Celtic influence, and Mathus’ elegantly-wasted fretwork stirs up memories of James Burton’s taut, wiry Telecaster tones.

The sunburned, Delta-flavored “Slow Down Sun” is a deceptively bluesy track, with Mathus’ languid, drawled vocals matched by resonant, rattletrap acoustic git licks and subtle percussion; the sizzling, slow-tempo performance isn’t so much a ballad as a slippery reflection caught in swamp water. The cockeyed and more than a little fractured “Keep It Together” is pure poetry set to clamorous but effective instrumentation with scraps of lovely guitar rising above the fray. Closing the EP, “Catahoula” is a real shit-kicker, with wired finger-pickin’, spry instrumentation, yelped vocals, and at least partially nonsensical lyrics that are delivered with all the brittle energy and unbridled enthusiasm of a 1920s-era jug band, i.e. some real ‘poop-puntin’ music,’ as me dear ol’ grandpappy used to say!

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Jimbo Mathus seldom disappoints, and Band of Storms hits all the right notes in its ambitious and masterful exploration of American music forms. Although a bit on the short side – more Jimbo is always better – these songs were built for vinyl, and the EP delivers traditionalist sounds with a contemporary edginess. Kudos to Jimbo Mathus and his crew for another mighty fine record. Grade: A (Big Legal Mess Records, released May 6, 2016)

Buy the EP from Jimbo Mathus' Band of Storms

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fear’s Lee Ving gets his own Throbblehead!

Lee Ving Throbblehead
Philly native Lee James Capallero changed his name to Lee Ving in the late 1960s when he hooked up with the Sweet Stavin Chain Blues Band (which also included Michael Brecker), who played shows with legends like B.B. King and Buddy Guy. The singer and guitarist ran through a number of bands before moving to Los Angeles in the mid ‘70s and forming the legendary punk band Fear in 1977.

With Fear, Ving became a punk rock icon, albums like 1982’s The Record and 1985’s More Beer yielding memorable hardcore ditties like “Let’s Have A War,” “I Love Livin’ In The City,” and “Have A Beer With Fear.” As the band’s frontman, the bulk of Fear’s notoriety landed on Ving’s shoulders, and he parlayed his image into a fringe acting career throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, appearing in minor roles on TV and in movies like Flashdance, Streets of Fire, and Dudes. Fear also made a memorable appearance in Penelope Spheeris’ documentary film The Decline of Western Civilization.

A notorious performance by Fear on the 1981 Halloween episode of Saturday Night Live, at former cast member John Belushi’s request, resulted in chaos when the band and slam dancers they enlisted to appear on stage (including Belushi, Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye, and the Meatmen’s Tesco Vee, among others) caused thousands of dollars in damages to the set and equipment. In spite of their total lack of commercial success – Fear’s 1980s-era albums were released by poorly-distributed indie labels like Slash, Restless, and Sector 2 Records – the band was influential beyond its reach, with bands like Megadeth, Soundgarden, Guns N’ Roses, and Bad Religion all covering Fear songs.       

With a pedigree like this, Lee Ving deserves the ‘Throbblehead’ treatment from Aggronautix, and in the summer of 2016 the Fear frontman will get his own bobblehead figure. The Ving ‘Throbblehead’ will be a 7” polyresin figure limited to 1,000 numbered units, packaged in a custom-designed box with gritty artwork by Marco Palumbo of No Front Teeth U.K. Ving’s ‘Throbblehead’ is the 30th to be released by the company and can be ordered from the Aggronautix website.

All ‘Throbblehead’ figures released by Aggronautix (including bobbleheads of G.G. Allin, Wendy O. Williams, and “Handsome” Dick Manitoba, among others) are available at independent record stores, comic shops, and tattoo parlors, as well as from

Lee Ving's Throbblehead box
Lee Ving's Throbblehead box

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Real Gone Music Revisits The Tubes' Early Years

The Tubes' Young and Rich & Now
The Tubes are one of those frequently-overlooked classic rock bands that has been mired in obscurity for almost 30 years, but has still managed to eke out a living to this day. This isn’t quite the contradiction that it seems – the four albums the band released during the mid-to-late ‘70s were largely critically acclaimed and earned them a reputation as a talented musical outfit with brilliant chops in rock and pop, a sharp satirical perspective with bite, and electrifying, almost manic theatrical live shows. The band scored a Top Ten chart hit in 1983 with “She’s A Beauty” before slipping out of the spotlight.

The Tubes’ self-titled, Al Kooper-produced 1975 debut album made quite a splash in the free-wheeling ‘70s, and it – along with Outside Inside, which includes the aforementioned hit single – are the only titles in the band’s catalog that have largely remained in print since their release. On July 1st, 2016 Real Gone Music will release the Tubes’ second and third albums, 1976’s Young & Rich, and the following year’s Now, as a two-disc set with new liner notes by writer Gene Sculatti that are drawn from a new interview with Tubes’ drummer Prairie Prince. Both albums have been out-of-print for years.

The Tubes' Young & Rich
The Young & Rich album was produced by Ken Scott, who made his bones engineering for the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and the Pretty Things before moving into the captain’s chair, producing essential albums by David Bowie and Supertramp, among others. Scott did a fine job in capturing the band’s anarchic energy and satirical edge, a hard-rockin’ combo of Alice Cooper, Frank Zappa, and Captain Beefheart – avant-garde rock ‘n’ roll with edgy pop melodies. Young & Rich scored a minor AOR radio hit in the breathless “Don’t Touch Me There,” which hit #61 on the singles chart, while the album itself outpaced the band’s debut in reaching #46 on the albums chart.

The Tubes' Now
Now didn’t fare nearly as well, barely pulling itself to #122 on the chart, but still yielded some interesting songs like “Hit Parade,” “I’m Just A Mess,” “Cathy’s Clone,” and raucous covers of Captain Beefheart’s “My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains” and Lee Hazlewood’s “This Town.” Working with notable British producer John Anthony, who shepherded albums by Genesis, Queen, and Roxy Music to completion, Now was originally meant to be a two-album set until recording delays (criticized by their label A&M Records as an attempt to jack up the band’s union fees) cut the project short. Both Young & Rich and Now remain essential documents of the Tubes’ catalog, capturing the essence of the band at what was arguably their creative peak.

Buy the CD from The Tubes' Young & Rich/Now

Real Gone Music Announces July Slate

Question Mark and the Mysterians' Action
The good folks at Real Gone Music have announced a rather intriguing slate of releases for July. Among the titles announced for July 1st, 2016 release by the archive label are Action, the 1967 album by Question Mark and the Mysterians; the Electric Prunes’ The Complete Reprise Singles; and an ambitious ‘two-fer’ from Sea Level that includes both the band’s self-titled debut album and Long Walk On A Short Pier, their final album.

Garage-rock legends Question Mark and the Mysterians scored a minor but enduring hit in 1966 with their classic tune “96 Tears,” following up the single with the acclaimed album of the same name. The band released its sophomore effort, Action, in 1967, claiming another minor hit with their cover of “Can’t Get Enough Of You Baby.” The album included a number of other ramshackle, organ-driven rock ‘n’ roll tunes like “Smokes,” “Hangin’ On A String,” and the Isley Brothers’ gem “Shout.” Real Gone is reissuing Action as a yellow, 500-copy limited edition album on glorious vinyl, which has been mastered at 45rpm for the proper sonic effect.

The Electric Prunes' The Complete Reprise Singles
The Complete Reprise Singles features all 23 of the Electric Prunes’ original singles for Reprise Records, released circa 1966 through ’69, including the hits “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)” and “Get Me To The World On Time,” the tracks featuring various band line-ups and the work of producers like Dave Hassinger and David Axelrod. The songs are presented in the original mono mixes, which were frequently different from the versions that appeared on the Prunes’ albums at the time. The CD includes track commentary by the several band members, liner notes by noted rock historian Richie Unterberger, and rare photos of the band and the original 45s.

Sea Level was a curious bird, the late 1970s outfit ostensibly thrown in amongst the redneck Southern Rock horde while they plumbed the possibilities of rock, jazz, R&B, and funk music. Formed by former Allman Brothers Band members Chuck Leavell (keyboards), ‘Jaimoe’ Johanson (percussion), and Lamar Williams (bass) with guitarist Jimmy Nalls, Sea Level released its self-titled debut album in 1977, the band masterfully weaving their way through invigorating instrumental romps as “Tidal Wave,” “The Rain In Spain,” and Leavell’s keyboard showcase, “Grand Larceny,” performing with the vigor of their ABB jam-band roots.

Sea Level's Sea Level & Long Walk On A Short PierBy the time that Sea Level recorded its fourth and final album – Long Walk On A Short Pier – in 1979, their careful musical chemistry had changed. Jaimoe returned to the Allman Brothers Band and Sea Level added guitarist Davis Causey and multi-instrumentalist Randall Bramblett. Due to contractual issues with Capricorn Records, their label, the album wasn’t released until 1998. Both albums will be reissued by Real Gone on a single disc, so start saving your pennies ‘cause there’s a lot of great music to be had on July 1st!

Buy the CDs from
The Electric Prunes - The Complete Reprise Singles
Sea Level - Sea Level/Long Walk On A Short Pier

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Jeff Healey CD Giveaway!

Jeff Healey's Heal My Soul
The late Jeff Healey remains one of the most beloved blues-rock guitarists on the planet. Fans have been treated to a number of posthumous Healey albums, but none of them quite as good as his latest, Heal My Soul. Don't believe me? Read the Rev's album review and you'll run for your credit card...

But don't hit that "order" button on Amazon quite yet, true believe! We have a limited number of copies of Healey's Heal My Soul to give away courtesy of Provogue Records. To enter for a chance to win a copy of this rockin’ disc, email the Reverend the name of your favorite blues artist to [at] (yes, the ‘dot com’ will work) before May 31st, 2016.

I will pick winners at random and notify you by email for your mailing info; your free CD will be sent out in the beginning of June.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

CD Preview: Royal Southern Brotherhood’s The Royal Gospel

Royal Southern Brotherhood's The Royal Gospel
Damn, these Royal Southern Brotherhood guys are a prolific bunch…the band is about to release its fourth studio album in a like number of years on June 24th, 2016 when The Royal Gospel hits the streets. Like all of the RSB’s previous albums, The Royal Gospel will be released by the good folks at Ruf Records. The album features a line-up of singer Cyril Neville, guitarists Bart Walker and Tyrone Vaughan, drummer Yonrico Scott, and new bassist Darrell Phillips. Guest keyboardist Norman Caesar provides some tasty B3 organ on several songs.

The follow-up to 2015’s Blues Music Award-nominated Don’t Look Back album, The Royal Gospel was recorded in a mere seven days in February 2016 at Dockside Studios in Louisiana. Working with noted producer David Z, the band played together live in the studio, their chemistry allowing them to capture many of their performances in a minimum of takes. “We walked in not really knowing what we were gonna do,” Philips says in a press release for The Royal Gospel. “Cyril and Bart come to us with chord progressions, tempos, and ideas and we build together. We’d just fall right into the thing and all of a sudden, there’s the song. On this record, we came together as a band. It was a magical thing to witness.”

The Royal Gospel pushes the band’s blues-rock roots even further, taking advantage of Walker and Vaughan’s intertwined guitars to build a more electric sound that rocks. Hard. Listening to a preview of the album, a number of songs stand out. “Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire” burns like an open flame with its scorching fretwork and soulful vocals. “Blood Is Thicker Than Water” features stellar instrumentation, and the intro alone will blow your mind, the song itself a high-octane mix of the Neville Brothers’ New Orleans soul and blistering blues-rock guitar.

“I’m Coming Home” pairs wonky, angular guitar lines with bluesy vox and martial drums to stunning effect while “Land of Broken Hearts” is a monster, a fire-breathing tsunami with torrents of guitar and crashing percussion. “The whole record is geared toward making a joyful noise,” says Neville in the album’s press release, “but while we’re partying, we still need to be thinking about what’s going on around us. It covers what we’ve seen in our travels over the last few years, and what we’ve lived personally as citizens of the world.”

Royal Southern Brotherhood was formed in 2011 as a sort of roots ‘n’ blues ‘supergroup’ by New Orleans music legend Cyril Neville and guitarists Mike Zito and Devon Allman – all three successful solo artists in their own rights – along with bassist Charlie Wooten and drummer Yonrico Scott. The five released their critically acclaimed self-titled debut album in 2012, its blend of rock, blues, jazz, and funk music finding a ready audience. RSB followed with a live CD and DVD, Songs From The Road, later that year, the set subsequently winning a Blues Music Award.

The equally-acclaimed Heartsoulblood album followed in 2014, after which Zito and Allman left the band to pick up their solo careers. RSB didn’t skip a beat, adding Nashville blues-rock guitarist Bart Walker and Tyrone Vaughan, son of blues legend Jimmie Vaughan, and the new roster recorded Don’t Look Back in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. As good as their albums are, though, it’s the band’s entertaining and dynamic live performances that have won them a loyal and enthusiastic and sure enough they’ll be hitting the road again in the wake of The Royal Gospel. Check out RSB’s summer 2016 tour dates below and plan on catching one of the most electrifying touring outfits in the blues today when they hit your town.

Buy the CD from Royal Southern Brotherhood's The Royal Gospel

Royal Southern Brotherhood's The Royal Gospel Tour:
06/03/16 @ Ruby’s Roadhouse, Mandeville LA
06/04/16 @ Ocean Springs Live!, Ocean Springs MS
06/09/16 @ The Oriental Theater, Denver CO
06/10/16 @ Stargazers Theatre, Colorado Springs CO
06/11/16 @ Snowmass Free Summer Concerts, Aspen CO
06/14/16 @ Zoo Bar, Lincoln NE
06/15/16 @ Barleycorn’s, Wichita KS
06/16/16 @ Shrine, Tulsa OK
06/17/16 @ Uncle Bo’s, Topeka KS
06/18/16 @ Crossroads KC, Kansas City MO
06/24/16 @ Bayou Boogaloo, Norfolk VA
07/08/16 @ Callahan’s, Auburn Hills MI
07/09/16 @ Kalamazoo Valley Blues Festival, Kalamazoo MI
07/10/16 @ S.P.A.C.E., Evanston IL
07/14/16 @ La Fete de Marquette, Madison WI
07/15/16 @ Vegetable Buddies, South Bend IN
07/16/16 @ Bastille Day Festival, Milwaukee WI
07/30/16 @ Big Bend Blues Bash, Pomeroy OH
08/06/16 @ Burnaby Blues Festival, Burnaby CAN
08/12/16 @ Calabogie Blues & Ribfest, Calabogie CAN
08/13/16 @ Donnacona Blues Festival, Québec CAN
08/20/16 @ Calabogie Blues & Ribfest, Calabogie OH
09/10/16 @ Big Blues Bender, Las Vegas NV
09/11/16 @ Big Blues Bender, Las Vegas NV
10/30/16 @ Pennsylvania Music Festival, Lake Harmony PA

Royal Southern Brotherhood 2016

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Archive Review: Guy Clark's Workbench Songs (2006)

Guy Clark's Workbench Songs
There’s a reason why heavy-hitters like Steve Earle, Vince Gill and the late Johnny Cash considered Texas-born songwriter Guy Clark a legend. A dozen albums into a 30-year-plus career, Clark never ceases to amaze, not only for his subtle, sublime wordplay but also for his flawless, effortless vocal delivery. There’s nobody else in country music that can match Clark’s comfortable drawl or his brilliant lyrical imagery, so rather than beat him, they just record his songs...

Workbench Songs is another solid Clark effort, a masterfully crafted set of folk-country tales as dry as West Texas mesquite and as smartly worded as anything Clark has recorded. Often co-writing with fellow travelers like Lee Roy Parnell, Rodney Crowell, Darrell Scott, and long-time foil Verlon Thompson, Clark’s wry perspective on life, love and the pursuit thereof results in tunes like the hilarious, upbeat “Expose,” the bittersweet “Magdalene,” and the dour “Funny Bone.”

Whether knocking out “No Lonesome Tune,” the obligatory Townes Van Zandt cover; a spicy Tex-Mex original like “Cinco De Mayo In Memphis;” or a duet with Thompson on the folksy, traditional “Diamond Joe,” Clark strips modern country of its prime-time glamour and takes it back to its dusty roots. Guy Clark takes his time between albums, but Workbench Songs again proves that the results are always worth the wait. (Country Standard Time, 2006)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Bootleg Review: NRBQ's Wally, Stu, Lou & the Q! (2000)

NRBQ's Wally, Stu, Lou & the Q!
Source: My Father’s Place, Hoboken NJ, September 26, 1981

Sound Quality: Very good radio broadcast from WLIR-FM with just a little hollowness to the overall sound but nevertheless a very engaging show, especially considering the vintage.

Cover: Single-sided insert front cover has color shots of the four individual band members; the back cover has a single shot of the band along with tracklist and venue information. A minor caveat, however – the band shows show the current NRBQ line-up that includes guitarist Johnny Spampinato; the guitarist at the time of this performance was Big Al Anderson, who spent nearly 20 years with the band before retiring from the road to become a songwriter in Nashville.

Tracklist: I Want You To Feel Good Too • That’s Neat, That’s Nice • North To Alaska • You Can’t Hide • Michael Row Your Boat Ashore • It Was An Accident • Don’t She Look Good • Feel You Around Me •Wooly Bully • RC Cola & A Moon Pie • Music Goes Round & Round •The Dummy Song • I Want You Bad • Stop In The Name of Love • You Are My Destiny • Little Drummer Boy • Me And The Boys • Shake, Rattle & Roll • Captain Lou • Daddy O • Ridin’ In My Car • Things We Like To Do

Comments: Why aren’t these guys in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? After all, they kicked out their first sides in 1969, beating the Hall’s 25-year qualifying mark by a good half-decade. They’ve traveled more miles across the United States than a truck driver’s rubber pillow, and they’ve probably played as many shows as any rock band, anywhere. A slew of records, a cult following, a couple of minor hits – isn’t this what rock music is all about? Screw the Bee Gees, I’ve seen the true face of rock ‘n’ roll and it looks a lot like NRBQ.

My ranting aside, the New Rhythm and Blues Quintet has been a part of the American landscape for so long that it’s easy to take them for granted. A talented touring band with a bag of tricks that ranges from roots-rock to blues, jazz, pop, and beyond, NRBQ is the definition of a cult band. All of which makes it quite surprising that the band doesn’t have a larger presence in the shadowy world of tape trading and bootleggers. Although there are a few NRBQ live shows to be found on tape, Wally, Stu, Lou & the Q! is the first that I’ve found on CD. It’s pretty representative of the band and their capabilities, mixing musical genres like nobody’s business.

The disc includes a few minor NRBQ hits such as “RC Cola & A Moon Pie,” the wonderful “I Want You Bad,” the raucous “Me and The Boys,” and one of the best summer romance songs, “Ridin’ In My Car.” Hanging out with the infamous “Captain” Lou Albano a good half-decade before Cyndi Lauper (he even introduced the band this night), the ‘Q’ immortalized the wrestling legend with their rollicking “Captain Lou.” The entire performance here is assisted by the Whole Wheat Horns, who punctuate each song with an indelible brassy signature.

A time-tested NRBQ crowd-pleaser that is captured here is the tradition of “The Box” in which the band takes audience requests, playing whatever they’re asked to. The results can be quite terrifying, as when the band launches into a dreadful rendition of “Little Drummer Boy” or “Stop In The Name of Love” complete with falsetto vocals. Claiming that they “know every song ever written,” it’s a testimony of the Q’s talents that they can pretty much pull off a performance of anything that the audience asks, some covers coming off better than others.

If Terry Adams, Joey Spampinato, Tom Ardolino, and Al Anderson (most recently Johnny Spampinato) never make it into the hallowed halls of Cleveland’s “mistake on the lake,” they can take solace in the fact that they’ve entertained audiences with style and sincerity for over thirty years. Wally, Stu, Lou & the Q! is a fine documentation of just one of over a thousand nights that NRBQ has rocked the house in some cloudy bar, and a welcome addition to any music lover’s library. (Tendolar Records #TDR-138, 71:40 min)

Originally published by Live! Music Review, 2000

CD Review: Jeff Healey's Heal My Soul (2016)

Jeff Healey's Heal My Soul
Canadian blues-rock guitarist Jeff Healey’s death in March 2008 – just a couple weeks before the release of his excellent Mess of Blues album – launched a slow-burning reappraisal of the musician’s career. There have been a slew of posthumous releases since Healey’s tragic death at the tender age of 41 years, most of them live recordings or patchwork quilts of live and studio material. Some albums have been authorized by Healey’s estate (i.e. his wife Cristie), but others have not. Heal My Soul is an estate-authorized collection personally curated by producer Roger Costa, in whose capable hands the guitarist’s legacy has been placed.

The back story goes like this – during the last few years of the Jeff Healey Band in the late 1990s, the guitarist wrote and recorded up a storm, creating and archiving better than three dozen songs in a blues-rock vein before dropping out of the major label rat-race to pursue his other passion, old-school jazz music. Although thirteen songs from this tsunami of creativity were releases in 2000 as Get Me Some, the rest of the treasure has sat, untouched, in the archive for almost two decades. Costa culled a dozen of Healey’s best performances, restoring and remixing the original master tapes into Heal My Soul. In doing so, Costa removed any period-specific sounds to better emphasize Healey’s enormous talents, the results sometimes shocking but never unpleasing...

Jeff Healey’s Heal My Soul

Although Healey’s softer side may be represented further down the album, Heal My Soul kicks off with the explosive “Daze of the Night,” a blues-metal styled track written with Marti Frederiksen and featuring clamorous rhythms, roaring vocals, and molten licks that would sound perfectly at home on any Clutch LP. Healey fronts a traditional power trio here comprised of his former JHB compatriot Joe Rockman (bass) and drummer Dean Glover, which are featured on most of these songs. Healey’s vox rage surprisingly across the track, his high-flying solos soaring above the same ballpark as, say, Randy Rhodes or Jake E. Lee (both former Ozzy fretburners, BTW). It’s a mighty strong performance, and one that will have you looking at Mr. Healey in an entirely different light.

Costa does a masterful job of arranging the sequencing here to keep things interesting, and the party rolls on with “Moodswing,” written by the Toronto-based songwriting collective known as The Phantoms. The song is a rockin’ bit o’ blues-tinged metal-flake that takes the guitarist out of his comfort zone but proves that Healey could shred the steel strings with the best of them. Rather than the blizzard of notes that boxed a listener’s ears on “Daze of the Night,” Healey’s reading of “Moodswing” proffers a darker ambiance, his screeching solos showing a hint of psychedelic madness that is matched by noisy rhythms and, well…‘moody’ vocals that lean in a blues direction, if you know what I mean...

I Misunderstood

By contrast, “Baby Blue” is the sort of acoustic ballad that helped win Healey a mainstream audience, and he delivers a beautiful performance here, his elegant but subdued fretwork dazzling alongside his rich, multi-tracked vocals and harmonies. Healey does a magnificent job interpreting Richard Thompson’s somber “I Misunderstood,” his vocals dropping into a lower register to mimic the British guitarist’s heartbreaking lyrical voice. Unlike Thompson’s original take, though, which appeared on 1991’s Rumor and Sigh album, Healey channels his own personal emotions through his fingers, bringing an eerie vibe to the guitar lines and making the song his own even while paying tribute to its writer.

“Please,” co-written with fellow six-string maniac Stevie Salas, is another red-hot wildfire, Healey delivering the vocals with a sense of urgency missing among the previous songs. His bluesy, hard-rocking performance shows that he missed his calling – although we blues fans have long respected Healey’s six-string talents, he could have jumped into the hard rock/metal fray and become a true “Guitar God,” putting suckers like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai to shame with the soulfulness inherent in his playing. That said, “Please” is a helluva song, a wall-to-wall sonic assault that will leave you gasping for air and hungry for more.

All The Saints

Firmly back on familiar ground, “Temptation” is the sort of Delta-bred blues jam that Healey has always excelled at; the performance here is pumped up on steroids, with jagged guitar licks reverberating off the kudzu vine while crashing drumbeats capture the rhythms of the swamp these deep blues were born in. Again, this is Jeff Healey as you’ve seldom heard him before, his stunning guitarplay a revelation, slyly mixing hard-times blues with sharp-edged hard rock to create a truly dangerous sound. Although there’s still a familiar six-string Sturm und Drang running as an undercurrent beneath the poppier “Kiss The Ground You Walk On,” the song’s vocal harmonies and plaintive vocals could have earned Healey a 1990s-era radio hit if it had been released.  

With sparse instrumentation and Healey’s filigree guitar, “All The Saints” is a hauntingly beautiful performance that places the spotlight on the guitarist’s expressive vocals, which are often overshadowed by his instrumental prowess. The guitar strum is elevated by Healey’s imaginative playing, his emotional vox offering a window to the singer’s soul. Rhythm guitarist Phillip Sayce joins in on “Put The Shoe On The Other Foot,” a funky, strutting bit of R&B swagger that evinces no little energy but lots of instrumental chops. Heal My Soul closes out with the surprising “It’s The Last Time,” a twang-tinged slice of pop-country that dresses up the blues in Nashville finery to fine effect. Healey’s fluid guitar lines bridge the gap between Hank Williams and Robert Johnson, channeling the sad-eyed ghosts of love-gone-wrong in what should have been another massive radio hit for the star-crossed artist.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Because Jeff Healey dabbled in so many musical idioms – pop, rock, blues, old timey jazz – his handful of recordings tend to run the gamut of style and expression. Heal My Soul provides a little of something for almost every Healey fan, no matter what genre and era of the guitarist’s work you may adore. The album offers up a few pleasant surprises and a lot that’s comfortably familiar, with Healey’s charismatic presence, wonderful guitar tone, and timeless talent dominating the grooves. Most of all, the album captures Healey playing as he wanted to play, without label or management interference, the guitarist clearly reveling in the sheer joy of the songs.

If Heal My Soul ends up being the last of Healey’s posthumous releases, he’ll have gone out on a high note; if not, it’s certainly one hell of a collection that displays the man’s enormous – and often overlooked talents – in the very best light. There’s literally nothing I don’t like here, and that’s the highest praise I can give. Grade: A+ (Provogue Records, released March 25, 2016)

Buy the CD from Jeff Healey's Heal My Soul