Canadian blues rock guitar hero Jeff Healey sadly passed away in 2008 after several battles with cancer, the first of which left him permanently blind at the age of three. I was always amazed at what Healey was capable of on the guitar considering he was without sight… death defying bends, soulful blues, and aggressive rock licks aplenty. ‘Holding On’ is a companion piece to the ‘Heal My Soul’ album released earlier in the year, which in itself was an album of unreleased material from Healey’s rockier side. The first five tracks on offer are also studio offcuts, but the remainder are live tracks taken from a show in 1999. What’s noticeable about these five studio tracks is they are more typical of Jeff Healey’s sound, more bluesy than the harder rock tracks from the previous release. The material is outstanding, and it seems criminal that these tracks have been sitting unreleased for so long. Album opener, ‘Love Takes Time’, is a moody blues rocker, and both Healey’s voice and guitar sound impeccable! ‘CNIBlues’ is a short, but very sweet, blues instrumental with a real Chicago blues feel to it. It’s obviously an unfinished piece, at a minute long, but it rounds off the studio tracks nicely.
As great as these studio tracks are, it’s the live tracks that really show off Jeff Healey’s impressive playing. The show, recorded in Norway, sounds as though it was recorded direct from the mixing desk, as there is very little crowd noise. It almost sounds like a studio recording in itself. There are some real gems here, in particular, his cover of B.B. King’s ‘How Blue Can You Get’, which starts off sounding very much like B.B.’s playing style, before Healey ramps it up to his almost Hendrix-esque blend of playing. He then manages to cram jazz and some blues-on-steroids licks in there, as well, just in the one song! Other highlights include a very Rolling Stones sounding “Stuck In The Middle With You’. It’s so different, Healey forgets which song he’s meant to be playing. It’s followed by an enjoyable run through ‘Tequila’. Throughout the show, Healey seems in a jovial mood, even on his ballads like ‘Macon Georgia Blue’. This release, like so many of his others, really shows off the scope of his talent and range of his styles. The album closes with ‘See The Light’, which, at nearly nine minutes in length, is chock-full of that wonderful playing. It’s a nice jam that sees Healey go for some truly fret-melting solos, descending into wonderful, detuned buzzing noise.
Normally, albums like this are aimed at the die-hard fans that want to complete their collections, but I would say, if you are a fan of great blues and rock guitar, and you don’t own any Jeff Healey, get this. Stick it on, turn the lights off, and just listen. Then, if you play the guitar yourself, imagine playing without looking at your fretboard at all. Reckon you could play like Jeff Healey? Thought not!
Review: Colin Plumb