June 2008

Jeff Healey - Mess of Blues
Ruf Records RUF 1126
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

When guitarist Jeff Healey died earlier this year at age 41, the blues world lost one of its leading lights. Healey was, along with Stevie Ray Vaughan, at the forefront of the '80s blues resurgence. Like Vaughan, Healey was as influenced by rock guitarists as he was by traditional blues players. He was a restless musician, however, who gave three CDs over to his other passion, the hot jazz of the '30s and '40s. He played trumpet and valve trombone on those sessions in addition to guitar.

Mess of Blues, his final recording, was his first blues disc in eight years, and Healey comes out swinging with a live recording of "I’m Torn Down." It’s a sign of a real feel for the blues when a band can take a song that’s been pounded into the ground and bring it back to life. Healey has a terrific backing band here and he gives them space to show off. Dave Murphy, on keys, matches Healey’s fire and verve in his playing, and the rhythm section, while unobtrusive, keeps up with the challenges Healey gives them. Bassist Alec Fraser provides a solid, thumping foundation on the cover of Neil Young’s "Like a Hurricane," which rocks every bit as hard as the original.

The disc contains live and studio recordings, and the live tracks are strong on atmosphere. The studio recordings could have used a little more space, but Healey reaches out through them anyway. I wiped away a tear as I listened to the closing track, "Shake, Rattle, and Roll." Jeff Healey’s best was yet to come.