Jeff Healy - Mess Of Blues
Released just prior to his death this spring, "Mess of Blues" showcases the kind of raw Blues that made Jeff Healy's name in the mid-90s. He had certainly strayed from that in recent years as he aimed for more mainstream success, and as a result faded from the public eye and lost all but a die-hard core of fans in the process. This record though serves as a fitting epitaph, as it features both his strengths (blistering, often Hound Dog Taylor-esque guitar) and weaknesses (obvious song choices that are sometimes impossible to overcome even with vigorous arrangements).
It's not that "The Weight," "Jambalaya" and "Like a Hurricane" are bad, and Healy's playing is raw and right throughout. And certainly the choices of familiar songs benefit a bar band, and this was recorded with a bar band backing him, and two tracks on the record are live. But too often the playing doesn't rise above what you'd hear on a Friday night anywhere. And you know yourself, most Friday night bands sound great only after a beer or four. Other tracks like "It's Only Money" and "Mess O'Blues" are by the numbers barrellhouse blues, nothing more.
Better are the slow, sexy strut of "How Blue an You Get," or the semi-funky "Sugar Sweet."
But even here there is nothing adventurous at work, nothing that tries to take you higher. Healy, at least in the early days, was mentioned as a new blues guitar hero, only just below Stevie Ray Vaughn. What kept him from reaching that level, aside from not being able to singvery well, is that his fretwork, for all its fire and bruising potential, never made any tune his own. "Messof Blues" is fun record, one featuring several shit-hot guitar solos by an artist who'll be missed, but who didn't leave anything classic behind. Maybe some posthumous live stuff will come out and make me sound like a son of a bitch. I hope so.
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