Slipping the late, great Jeff Healey’s Holding On: A Heal My Soul Companion into the CD tray resembles throwing open the door to your much missed brother.
As rich melted Bourneville chocolate mixed with liberal doses of sweetened marshmallow, this is an album not to have on as background music. It is instead an album to sit down and properly savour so as to be able to immerse yourself in its greatness.
It is impossible not to extol his virtuoso guitar work and poetic lyricism, without coming across in some way a little patronising. The problem is, however, that Healey really was that good – a rare and mercurial one off of whom mere words seem inadequate to sum up. So let’s allow the music, on this the seventeenth album that bears his name, sing for its supper.
Featuring five recently unearthed studio recordings – the first of which being the mood setting vibrancy that is steeped in Love Takes Time; a track which simply magnifies that which is lost – and a concert performance in Oslo during 1999, Holding On: A Heal My Soul Companion is every lover of the blues wet dream.
On the surface, Dancing With Monsters comes across as an atypical blues-rock mainstream. Dig a little deeper, however, and unearth the self-deprecation. “Cos I’m a man, I gotta fight the good fight,” he eloquently sings, “with the demons in the darkness, we’re gonna chase you to the light.” Underlay this with the exceptional musicianship going on alongside Healey’s own and ask yourself: “What’s not to love?”
Then there is the cheekiness of the perky studio jam that is CNI (Seein’ Eye?) Blues, which is a good a signature with which to sign off on as any you are likely to hear from any performer, in any genre at any time.
Yet what makes Holding On truly stand out is the energy of its live recordings. As openers to any set go, My Little Girl simply drips with intent, whereas the electrifying cover version of Robert Johnson’s Dust My Broom will make the jaw sag at the ease with which the man chops out his chords.
For this track alone, Holding On: A Heal My Soul Companion is worthy of being entered into any discerning blues fan’s Top Ten albums. Yet more than the actual playing, it is the way Healey interacts with his audience – the warmth and fondness that travels along this two way street – that truly lifts the sum of the whole to new heights. Listen to this version of Traffic’s Stuck In The Middle With You and dare not to clap along, shift your feet and, above all, smile at the fun of it all.
The proud Canadian’s talents are much recounted. Indeed, there’re no plaudits remaining that can be offered that haven’t been already. Blind from a very early age, Jeff Healey passed away from sarcoma cancer on March 2nd, 2008. He was 41 years of age. With albums such as Heal My Soul and Holding On: A Heal My Soul Companion, however, Jeff Healey’s music will live on as a legacy of hope to all those with visual impairments and disabilities of all kinds as a beacon of inspiration in the dark.
Jeff Healey’s music will also live on for the obvious reason that it is quite simply extraordinary.