Soul Crusade, the new album by Jeffrey Halford and The Healers, lives up to its title, with a collection of tunes nodding to the sounds of Stax/Volt, ’60s R&B and the Delta Blues.
Halford, the band’s lead singer, songwriter and guitarist, said the arrangements evolved naturally during the COVID lockdown. “I couldn’t tour or play live, so I went down into my basement practice room and wrote songs. I have a vintage stereo, a drum kit, piano, a guitar and a Silvertone amp.
“Songwriting is my spiritual practice, and it kept me afloat during the last few years of isolation. It was a great time to write and record. I composed all the songs on Crusade and enough for another album. My son, Aaron, plays drums, so I was able to make recordings at home and release a couple of singles from the album during the pandemic.”
Although most of the record was put together remotely, Soul Crusade has the crisp quality of a live performance. “Walk to the River” is a gospel song that describes the travails of immigrants crossing the Rio Grande. Halford sings the refrain backed by a choir, then delivers the verses with a bluesy feel. He’s supported by a simple backbeat, provided by The Healers’ drummer Adam Rossi, who also produced.
“You have people coming into California every day,” Halford said. “They lift us up, and without them we’d be sunk. We’re all immigrants in this country. We should treat people fairly.”
The band lays down a loping Tex-Mex groove on “Take It Slow,” a flat-out rocker, peppered with licks that suggest Chuck Berry’s biggest hits. Halford’s vocal has a hint of nostalgia to it as he describes the pleasures of a youthful love affair.
A distorted blues guitar lick opens “The Devil,” a put down of Donald Trump and all he stands for. It combines rock, gospel and soul, featuring call and response vocals, hand clapping and a Memphis organ line. Halford closes the album with “Sad Sinking Feeling,” a song that laments the losses one faces with age, while praising the sustaining power of love. He sings it wistfully, accompanied by sparse piano and organ fills.
Halford has been playing with various versions of The Healers for almost 40 years, but said he never intended to make music his career. “My parents always had music playing around the house. I heard Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music by Ray Charles. There isn’t much of a musical barrier between soul and country, and he erased it with that album. It’s one of the inspirations for Soul Crusade.
“My brother was a Leon Russell freak and turned me on to gospel music. I got a Gibson guitar and a little amp in high school and started a band. When my parents weren’t in the living room, I’d sit in front of the record player and play along with Lead Belly and The Stones.”
Playing in Bay Area clubs during the punk/new wave explosion set Halford on his path to becoming a professional and brought other sounds to his attention. “I picked up on alt-country from Rank and File, roots rock from The Blasters, psychedelic country from the New Riders of the Purple Sage. I folded it all into my songwriting style. Along the way, I changed the group’s name to The Healers, because music is the best medicine in the world. It heals the body and the soul.”
Jeffrey Halford and The Healers will release ‘Soul Crusade’ on Floating Records next Friday, Sept. 23. The album came out in Europe two weeks ago and made its debut at #2 on the EuroAmericanaChart. The Healers will be touring Europe in October. Dates at jeffreyhalford.com.