Jeff Healey – The Best of the Stony Plain Years (review)

Jeff Healey – The Best of the Stony Plain Years (Stony Plain) review

The alter-ego of the blues rock legend

Jeff Healey is best known for his Top Five surprise 1989 hit, “Angel Eyes.”  Although an incredibly gifted blues-rock guitarist, he found the genre too constraining, and in the early 2000’s, began recording traditional jazz & blues records – even picking up a new instrument in the trumpet.  While many artists have tried similar paths, these excursions usually end up as momentary sidesteps, where Healey was all in.

The real difference here is that Healey knew the music – lived and breathed it in fact.  He’d amassed over 30,000 classic 78’s from the 1920’s & 30’s, and hosted a popular radio show in Canada on the genre, so this wasn’t just a gimmick that some A&R guy dreamed up.  And, it shows.

The twelve tracks on The Best of the Stony Plain Years cover a period from 2002 to his untimely passing in 2008, and are brimming with happiness.  Healey had left the pressures of the rock n’ roll lifestyle behind and he seems elated to be playing the music he loves.  Stony Plain gave him the freedom to express himself in whatever way he saw fit.

Be forewarned: this is miles away from the slick blues rock he recorded for Arista in the Nineties – most of the tracks would be classified as either “Dixieland” or “pre-war blues.”

Yet, this music is so uplifting – you can’t help but smile and tap your toe while listening.

The live tracks, featuring jazz legend Chris Barbor on trumpet, are particularly great – Healey is definitely feeding off the other musicians on rousing versions of “The Sheik of Araby” and “Sing You Sinners.”  And, he’s a surprisingly good trumpet player.

There’s definitely some hallowed territory here, but Healey handles with reverence (“Stardust”) and wit (“Sweet Georgia Brown”), seeming to give each song a little extra to make it his own.

Most of the tracks here showcase his fine, deep resonating voice and surprisingly good trumpet playing – especially on “Pardon My Southern Accent,” which really does sound like a vintage jazz recording.

Although early jazz can be an acquired taste, once you get an ear for it, it can be very uplifting.

Jeff Healey was certainly an underrappreciated artist.  His early blues-rock albums are essential for any fan of the genre.  But, for those who want to dig a little deeper, The Best of the Stony Plain Years offers some pleasant surprises.  —Tony Peters