There is little doubt in my mind that Jeff Healey was one of Canada’s greatest musical talents. That he was blind since the age of one matters little, for he’s never been a mere novelty act or “that blind guy playing guitar.” Healey and his band were musicians of frightening talent.
Full Circle: The Live Anthology shows us just how remarkable Healey and his band could be in various live settings with the amps turned way up and their hearts on their sleeves.
What makes this set of three CDs and one DVD so interesting is how unique the band can be on any given night. There are three complete concerts to be experienced, capturing three distinct moments in Healey history.
Disc one features a 1989 gig from the Montreal Jazz Fest. The Jeff Healey Band smokes through an 11-song set in support of their debut record, See the Light. There are also plenty of references to the band’s work on the Road House soundtrack (Double Deuce, baby!), including a particularly funny line from Jeff about “not having seen” the film.
The set cranks to life with a rock-hard jam in the form of “The Better it Gets.” After breaking down the walls and winning the crowd, Healey announces plans to make more “noise in the key of B-flat,” and the show rolls through tracks like “My Little Girl” and John Hiatt’s “Confidence Man.”
If there’s a grievance with the first disc, it’s that Tom Stephen’s drums can be a little overbearing in the mix at times. Except for his soloing, Healey’s guitar is on the quiet side, and that can lessen the experience to some degree.
Still, the Jazz Fest performance is a solid one, and tracks like “Roadhouse Blues” are scorchers. The organ work on crowd favourite “Angel Eyes” adds some nice dimensions.
The second disc and the DVD feature a 1991 show from Switzerland. The gig, at the St. Gallen Open Air Festival, is before a cheerful and energetic crowd on a wonderfully luminous day.
As smoking as Healey’s band is, the video production is a little less than enthralling. There are lots of old-school fades for one thing, and the camera seems to dawdle behind the drummer a little too much. Also, the track listing on the back of the DVD cover differs from the actual track listing on the DVD and menu slightly.
Even so, there are some zooms of Healey’s fretwork that can’t be missed, like during his blazing “See the Light” solo. And seeing the guitarist in his element, sun on his face and killing his guitar, is well worth the ticket price.
The third CD is the most refined recording in the collection. It features a 1995 performance from the Hard Rock in Toronto.
The performance proves Healey as a master of the live setting, playing through a sharp, efficient set of eight songs. His playing is more fluid, with some stellar solos emerging on tracks like John Lennon’s “Yer Blues,” “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues” and, of course, “See the Light.”
Healey’s interactions with the crowd are also worth noting. After a group of young women combine their voices to shout out a request for “Angel Eyes,” Healey retorts “Yeah, in your dreams” and lunges into the next track without missing a beat.
Lovers of the blues, rock and good music in general simply can’t sleep on the late Jeff Healey. This anthology, even with its limitations, offers a glimpse at three different and vital moments in his career. As different as each recording is in style and substance, the consistency and sheer awesomeness of Healey and his band remains the same throughout Full Circle: The Live Anthology.
Article originally published as Music Review: The Jeff Healey Band – Full Circle: The Live Anthology at Blogcritics