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JEFF HEALEY Mess Of Blues Ruf 1126 (2008)

Jeff Healey

If the twin concepts of a bar room band and musical eclecticism seem mutually exclusive then Jeff Healey has somehow managed to successfully fuse the two together in a low key but very impressive back to the roots live album.

Recorded both in his own hometown club in Toronto and The Academy in London, Jeff and band play a set of songs that he himself says 'get the greatest crowd reaction in our travels round the world'. And if this is some way takes the pressure off from having to come up with some new material, its instructive to remember that Jeff's musical eclecticism has taken him away from rock and back to exploring the roots of jazz by playing trumpet in a trad band.

And aside from a fine liaison with Walter Trout, this is his first return to the guitar since guitar since 2000. 'Mess of Blues' CD is quite simply a celebration of the joy of playing in a club setting. And given that Jeff calls his accomplices 'a bar room band', he has surely drawn on one of the very best outfits currently to be found playing their trade in the clubs.

Keyboard player Dan Murphy excels with a range of frisson-inducing solo's and he is aided and abetted by the rhythm section of Alec Fraser on bass and Al Webster's tight drumming while Dan Noordermeer chips in on rhythm guitar and occasional vocals.

But it is Jeff's superlative solo's that make this a special live album. Even the unlikely cover of the Cajun favourite 'Jambalaya' although starting off uncertainly is transformed into a triumph by the crack rhythm section and fluid guitar and rolling piano runs.

The point is that Cajun music is born of a bar room environment, and Jeff's band bob and weaves their way through the old favourite and similarly swing on the Doc Pomus/Elvis title track. In short there's nothing startling here just a band having fun and exploring some of their musical roots.

Keyboard player Dave Murphy shows he can write a good rocking tune as well as well as excitingly bring them to life with 'It's Only Money', before perhaps the most ambitious moment on the album when the band dive headlong into Neil Young's grungy 'Like a Hurricane'. It's thirteen years to the month that Jeff cut the 'Cover to Cover' album and as back then it's Jeff's playing that overcomes a passable arrangement to bring a dash of colour to the palate.

Perhaps one of the best moments comes with the very laid back cover of Walter Jacobs' 'Sittin' On Top of the World' on which Dave Murphy's brilliant piano solo is matched by a mellow but hugely satisfying playing from Jeff as he gently leans into an expressive solo and the crowd reaction says it all.

By contrast the band rip through the closing 'Shake Rattle & Roll ' as a great bar room band should with real drive, passion and some scintillating paying. Jeff fires on all cylinders and the band cooks up a rock steady groove. Just like the album as a whole its great fun all round!!


Review by Pete Feenstra

GRTR! Recommended

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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