See The Light
Arista Records, 1988
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/01/1998
Blind blues guitarists are nothing out of the ordinary; the annals of blues history make note of several guitarists who could not see, such as "Blind" Lemon Jefferson. So, Canadian guitarist Jeff Healey's success in 1988 was not a gimmick because of his blindness.
Likewise, there are many different ways that people have played guitar over the years. While Healey's style - putting the guitar flat on his lap and playing the fretboard more like a piano keyboard - was unique, it could hardly be called a gimmick.
So why did this young guitarist and his band hit the big time with their debut album See The Light? Simple: well written songs that pushed the envelope of blues and rock, even if the production wasn't always the greatest.
Healey proved early on this album that he was more than a competent guitarist, lack of sight or strange playing style be damned. With bassist Joe Rockman and drummer Tom Stephen providing a solid rhythm backbone, Healey was free to both lay down a smooth rhythm guitar track and to cut loose in his solos. Tracks like "Confidence Man," "River Of No Return" and the title track offer evidence aplenty of this.
When it comes to the blues, Healey demonstrates the skill that has left jaws of modern-day bluesmasters like Stevie Ray Vaughan and B.B. King agape. His performance on a cover of "Hideaway" is nothing short of a masterpiece, and though his cover of ZZ Top's "Blue Jean Blues" is a little too lazy for my tastes, it is played lovingly by Healey and crew.
But don't just write Healey off as a bluesman; one listen to the ballad "Angel Eyes," one of the most beautiful songs of this style I've ever heard, shows there's a lot more to Healey than meets the eyes or ears.
There are only two problems with See The Light that I can hear. The biggest is the lack of a cleanly produced sound. Often, Healey's vocals - admittedly not that strong unless he's singing in a lower range - seem like they've been podded down a bit. It would have been better to have allowed the vocals to be brought to the forefront (as they occasionally are, such as on "That's What They Say") and judged strictly on their own merits. (Actually, the overall production of the album could have been better; it's not as crisp as it could have been.)
Second, not all of the material on See The Light is of the same caliber of quality as the ":hits" off this one. Tracks like "Nice Problem To Have" and "Don't Let Your Chance Go By" are quickly forgettable, which is a shame.
Still, See The Light was a nice first step for the Jeff Healey Band, and quickly established Healey as a premier guitarist worthy of the praise heaped upon him. He might never have achieved true superstardom, but even if See The Light had been his only recorded work, it would have been something to be quite proud of.