For some reason, Jeff Healey’s “Angel Eyes” has always given me that feeling where I’m just about to cry but can’t quite muscle a tear over the edge. Ever since I first heard it, I’ve managed to associate a number of romantic hopes with it and have found myself totally and completely captivated by the notion of the most gorgeous girl in the room looking at me for some ungodly reason.
Now that I’ve grown older and actually have the most gorgeous girl in the room, the career of Jeff Healey’s has expanded well beyond the wealth of that one song and into an oeuvre that is both technically astounding and emotionally impactful.
When Healey died in March of 2008, I remembered “Angel Eyes.” I remembered it all. And I remembered Jeff Healey not as a sublimely talented blind musician but as a companion to my growing-up, as a companion to my youth, as someone who saw further and clearer than I ever could imagine.
Last Call is a peerless collection of Healey tunes that reveals another side of the man. Well-known for his blues-rock, Healey had always had a love for ’20s and ’30s jazz. Last Call shows the world that love with 14 beautiful pieces of music and serves as a reminder to me of his greatness, his scope and his talent.
We often find a veritable mash-up of weirdness when it comes to so-called posthumous recordings. Many albums are cheesy and overly sentimental, serving as tributes rather than as unique pieces of art.
Last Call is different, however, and another shade to Jeff Healey is offered with these songs. Visions of him playing guitar on his lap and sweating under the bright lights under the crush of his ardent delivery are not entirely removed, but these songs are more intimate and withdrawn than what many are used to.
This is a collection of jubilant renditions of some of Healey’s favorite tunes, to be sure, but it’s also a window to the soul. Healey doesn’t just sing and play guitar here, either. He introduces a trumpet to the proceedings, showing off yet another dimension of his musical character.
“Forget about the weather, ‘cuz I think it’s simply grand,” Healey begins on “Holding My Honey’s Hand.” The opening track is imperfect and sweet, with the stripped-down performance still giving room for a groovy little patch of soloing.
Last Call features Healey along with Drew Jurecka on violin and Ross Wooldridge on piano and clarinet. The little group is the perfect fit for these songs and the arrangements never overwhelm. Healey’s joy for playing these songs is made clear because of the spaciousness and splendor offered by the group.
The slick piano sway of “Time on My Hands” melts gracefully with Wooldridge’s flourish on “Laura.” Both tracks enable Healey to take the role of a forlorn nightclub crooner with smooth, hazy control and subtle tone.
Last Call is one of those posthumous records that only makes us miss the artist more. In revealing another facet to the legendary Jeff Healey’s inspiring career, this album takes a more than rightful place in the distinctive discography of one of the most talented, passionate Canadian musicians of all time.