Picture the scene, it’s New York 1972, Stevie Wonder is in Electric Lady Studios, there’s an auburn-haired, alabaster-skinned British guy in the corner, foot on wah-wah. Who is this guy everyone asks? The next day he’s not there. Fast forward 12 years, and the same guy is in the corner of a Minneapolis studio as Prince lays down Purple Rain. Who is this guy, everyone asks? The next day he’s not there.
This guy is Willie J Healey and he’s got a secret. He’s invented the time machine.
Some might say that making such a comparison suggests he has ripped off some of the greats, but this is far from pastiche. This is as if he was there, man. You can smell the flares, see the amber glow at the end of the cigarettes, the coke on your gums is tingling, the bourbon is palpable. He’s even sat on a crossroads in NYC on the cover.
There could be an argument about cultural appropriation by people who in one breath decries any bunch of white boys playing guitars that may have listened to an album from the ’90s, to the next inhale they don’t want them trying to play the music of black men from Motown, but let’s not listen to them. As if there isn’t enough to worry about. You might be reading this with the last drop of data, in the dark as the electricity has been cut off and it’s a beautiful grey and cloudy summer day outside, as the bailiffs throw you out for defaulting on your mortgage/you’ve not paid the rent since October last year.
Imagine you’re running all your electricity from the light fitting in the ceiling, wires coming out for your record player, heater and television in the early ’70s, only ever millimetres away from electrocution, but you’re happy.
It’s not actually possible to listen to a Willie J Healey record and not feel a semblance of joy. Because it would be very easy to do this badly. Sometimes you hear an artist who does a style of music that they aren’t entirely giving their all too, they aren’t convinced, it’s contrived and therefore not convincing. Willie is all in.
The LP kicks off with ‘Woke Up Smiling’ which in fact has heavy shades of George Harrison, vocally and in the smooth and easy acoustic and laid back, countrified slide guitar. He then slips into some nifty fretwork that only amplifies the similarities. The fact that the tone of the telecaster is so spot on and woozy elevates it. Once again, it feels like he’s in a session for All Things Must Pass not paying homage 50-odd years later.
‘Dreams’ is a big bucket of liquid wah wah, soul harmonies and funk Nile Rodgers would be proud of. Seductive as a pair of hot pants and 12-inch platforms. Scrummy.
‘Tiger Woods’ is the result of when Prince joins the Andre 3000 session for his The Love Below side of OutKast’s 2003 double album. In another dimension. With Healey skulking in the corner making notes.
‘Thank You’ features Jamie T “Champagne for my real friends/real pain for the sham/On your way down to her shoe, boy/On the top of a sixty-nine….. bus”. Filth. Raunchy, sexy filth. Who’d have thought Jamie T could be involved in something quite so sexy?
If ‘Black Camero’ comes on a bit ‘Knockin’ On Heavens Door ‘ well then that’s just fine, because it fits as the respite that is required at track 6.
‘Sure Feels Good’ sure feels like a pinnacle statement in the middle of the record. Taking aspects of all the styles he is mastering here and subtly creating the centrepiece, the elongated outro is such a joy, bursting with harmonic gospel vocals, chord progressions that hit the sweet spot and that funky, slick wah-wah. Yummy.
‘Little Sister’ similar to ‘Sure Feels Good’ is a mish-mash of everything great about this LP, with a groovy, bluesy breakdown with Clapton circa Cream licks.
You could make the argument that ‘Blue Bird’ is a little low-key for the finale, but it is more of a gentle encore after the Reprise of ‘Bumble Bee’.
What makes this such an engaging and beautiful listen is the live recording. The little touches of string or mic or a movement that usually gets airbrushed out but here it feels like you’re in the control room with headphones on and eyes closed, and you expect to open them and Healey is behind the glass doing harmonies with three beehives and the best afro you’ve ever seen.
This is a party album from all the best times between 40 and 50 years ago. Willie J Healey has pitched this perfectly for the escapism required for the dystopian now. Get on your dancing shoes, you sexy little swine.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.
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