Jeff Healey: Last Call (Stony Plain/Southbound)

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Jeff Healey: The Wildcat
Jeff Healey: Last Call (Stony Plain/Southbound)

When the singer/blues guitarist Jeff Healey first emerged in the late Eighties there were two critical camps set up: those who heard him as a fiery young player in the tradition of a Stevie Ray Vaughan, and those who thought he was getting the sympathy vote because he was blind.

Playing guitar on his lap, he could certainly strip the paint and those early albums put him on a plateau alongside the likes of Vaughan and Albert Collins (who had discovered him in small club in Toronto).

Long before his death in 2008 however he had reverted to his first love, old time blues of the kind you heard on 78rpm gramophone records.

When I interviewed him just after he was becoming known (see here) it was that vintage jazz which we talked about at great length (he traveled with a collection of old discs he told me). But of course very little of that made it into the printed interview: he was out on the back of his blues-rock debut album and that was of more interest to the rock audience which was just discovering him.

So if you think of Healey as that guy who could set a blowtorch to a tune then Last Call will comes a surprise: it is him in solo, or duo and trio settings playing hot jazz (with violinist Drew Jurecka and clarinet/pianist Ross Wooldridge) in the manner of recordings from the Twenties and Thirties. And he also multi-tracked himself plays more than passable period-style trumpet.

So the songwriters here aren't Albert Collins, T-Bone Walker or Albert King but Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti (The Wildcat, Black and Blue Bottom Stomp) and Hoagy Carmichael (Hong Kong Blues), and the other material includes such warhorses as Pennies From Heaven, Autumn in New York and the ever-popular I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.

Healey clearly knows this music inside out and not only does he play superb, chipping'n'swinging guitar but sings like the old masters.

On the hoary Deep Purple you can feel the decades drop away and you are back in a black'n'white world where men wore hats and elegant women smoked with long cigarette holders.

It is also complex music (lots of time changes and shifts of emphasis) but Healey inhabits it – and it sounds unabashed fun.

A very different Healey -- but an utter delight.

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