Americana stalwarts Jeffrey Halford & the Healers return with West Towards South this April, and calling it anything other than a lush exhibition of the band’s most intriguing qualities would be wholly dismissive of what they’ve accomplished in its tracklist. Building on the strength of past releases like the now-two year old Lo Fi Dreams and 2014’sRainmaker, West Towards South blends vibrant Americana with an ominous blues tonality in tracks like “A Town Called Slow,” “Deeper Than Hell” and the aching acoustic number “Gallows.” There’s a little something for everybody in these ten stylish new songs, and frankly, you don’t have to be the biggest fan of roots rock to appreciate just how phenomenal a record this is from start to finish.
“Ballad of Ambrose and Cyrus” is one of the more melodic songs on the album, but it isn’t devoid of Halford’s trademark growl, which in most every instance here defines the tonality of the music just as much as any of the string play does. The title track struts with a Delta-inspired swagger that punches us hard in the gut at the onset of the song and follows up its intimidating introduction with a smoky lap steel part that will haunt your dreams long after the music has stopped playing. While “Dead Man’s Hand” employs a similar formula, it sets itself apart in this group of tracks via a reverberated harmony between Halford and the guitars that is so damn decadent that it actually rivals the excess of mainstream pop when it’s operating at full charismatic capacity in the chorus.
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“Geronimo” invites us close to the melodic nucleus of West Towards South on the whim of a bluegrass-influenced fiddle melody that eventually gives way to a tortured serenade from our lead singer, who is perhaps more intimate with us in this track than in any other on the entirety of the record. It’s followed by the folkie tune “Sea of Cortez,” which sees Halford and his Healers digging into Heartland Rock in the style of Tom Petty, without borrowing too heavily from the rock n’ roll icon’s playbook. The soft rollicking guitars here revisit us in the closer “Willa Jean,” but I think it’s worth noting that no two songs on West Towards South utilize the same framework – something that we could only hope to say of the output that this band’s most formidable rivals have been sharing with us lately.
My favorite track in Jeffrey Halford & the Healer’s latest album is probably the moaning blues dirge “Three-Quarter Moon,” which comes to us saturated in melancholy but spiked with a sensuous groove that is understated at first but quickly becomes an unstoppable force to be reckoned with as the song carries on. I’ve been aware of this band and the accomplished leader behind its creation for a minute now, but I don’t think that I fully enjoyed the scope of musicality that they present in their studio work until hearing this record for the first time recently. Jeffrey Halford turns in a solid effort here, and the Healers definitely don’t disappoint in any of these songs as well.