Jeff Healey – The Best Of The Stony Plain Years | Album review

jeffhealycdJeff Healey – The Best Of The Stony Plain Years

Stony Plain Records SPCD 1380

12 songs – 54 minutes

When the world lost Jeff Healey at age 41 in 2008 after a valiant, three-year battle with sarcoma – cancer of the bone and soft tissue – it was stripped of a phenomenal guitar talent and far more. His skills bridged jazz, blues and swing, and he spread his musical knowledge as a highly respected radio broadcaster in his native Canada, a pursuit he attacked vigorously after growing wearing of the road as his health failed.

Healey developed his own style after picking up the guitar at age three after losing his sight to rentinoblastoma. By laying it in his lap, he was able to use all five fingers on the fretboard, allowing himself more flexibility than most guitar players as he wrung more feeling from the strings, as this album clearly shows.

Assembled by Stony Plain Records chief Holger Petersen, who provides a loving tribute in the liner notes, this CD is a collection of tunes gathered from Healey’s four releases on the label  — there are 17 more in his catalog — and presents him at his best as he reinterprets material that dates as far back as the turn of the 20th Century. Although most are rooted in the world of jazz, all swing from the hip with a strong blues feel.

Written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, the disc kicks off with a classic take of the Nat King Cole hit, “Three Little Words.” Healey’s stylized vocal delivery could have been amplified by a megaphone here rather than state-of-the-art microphones. His single-note guitar runs are sensational as he trades licks with Tom Pletcher and Dan Levinson on cornet and clarinet. Jeff’s style turns to strumming in accompaniment to Drew Jurecka’s violin solo for the instrumental “The Wild Cat,” an Eddie Lang-Joe Venuti original.

Hoagie Carmichael’s familiar “Star Dust” is next with Healey turning it into a sweet love song atop a simple arrangement. “Shiek Of Araby,” written in 1921 as a tribute to Rudolph Valentino, follows with all the feel of the Flapper Era, aided by a swinging horn section. Jeff’s six-string mastery comes to the fore for the instrumental “Guitar Duet Stomp,” in which he contributes both guitar lines, one uptempo and single-note, the other chorded. He follows with “Sing You Sinners,” a tune from the 1930s movie “Honey” that became a hit for Tony Bennett two decades later. It features another stellar guitar solo.

Healey’s vocal and trumpet prowess are on display for a version of the familiar “I Would Do Anything For You” and Johnny Mercer’s “Pardon My Southern Accent” before reinventing “Some Of These Days,” a 1910 Sophie Tucker hit. He dips into the Bing Crosby songbook for “My Honey’s Loving Arms” and follows with Carmichael’s “Hong Kong Blues” before ending the set with a version of “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

If you never got the opportunity to see Healey, this will provide a solid glimpse of the master at work. He breathed new life into songs that are weaved for eternity into the fabric of American life in the last century while showing utmost respect for the originals. If you’re looking for something cutting edge or ultra-modern, look elsewhere. But if you have a love for the sound of small jazz combos and enjoy a trip down memory lane, this one will be right up your alley.

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