It isn’t uncommon for successful musicians of every ilk to turn their focus, at some point, towards paying tribute to the performers, bands, and songwriters who influenced their own artistic trajectory. Jeff Coffey is among them. His album Origins: Singers and Songs that Made Me is a fourteen-track journey through Jeff Coffey’s back pages, so to speak, and his track selection shows unquestionable taste. The collection opens with a robust take on the Journey AOR classic “Ask the Lonely”. Coffey throws himself into delivering the song’s lyric as if he wrote the words himself and the music does a fantastic job of remaining faithful to the original without ever lapsing into outright imitation. The drumming is on-point throughout and there’s potent instrumental breaks, especially with guitar, punctuating the song for listeners.
Coffey continues in a similar vein with the second track. Triumph’s “Magic Power” receives the same passionate and inspired treatment as the opener without ever embracing mimicry. There’s really little point in covering another artist’s material unless you can bring something of yourself to the performance and Coffey pulls that off without ever imperiling fidelity to the original. You hear Coffey’s personality emerge in the unabashed joy defining his vocals — this is a man who loves singing and treats these songs with an abundance of love and care.
Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” still stands as a highlight for vocalist Mickey Thomas but Coffey holds his own against that iconic vocal while imbuing the performance with every ounce of necessary soul. The same relaxed glide and groove rife throughout the original marks this track as well. He can’t match Bonnie Raitt’s bluesy heartbreak from “I Can’t Make You Love Me” but can invest every bit of his own heart into the performance; it’s enough to make this performance an album highlight. His voice pairs up with piano in a satisfying way and his vocal range gives the track its own distinctive emotional edge.
The meditative mood of Sting’s “When We Dance” comes across quite well in Jeff Coffey’s version. His respect for this track, as with others, is palpable. It is interesting how Coffey can bring together very disparate songs, compare the poetic qualities of the lyrics for “When We Dance” to the relative simplicity of tracks like the aforementioned “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”, and form a coherent musical narrative for this release. Many different artists occupy a place in Jeff Coffey’s musical life and he’s willing to share them all.
Coffey lacks Rod Stewart’s grit and gravel, but “Maggie May” is nonetheless well served by the energy in his voice. The cover illustrates his intuitive understanding of how to maximize the potential of dramatic musical moments — Coffey’s voice peaks at all the right moments. The finale “Who Wants to Live Forever?”, a late Queen gem, is more suited to Coffey’s vocal strengths and, as such, makes for a fine closer. Jeff Coffey’s Origins: Singers and Songs that Made Me is essential listening for anyone who enjoys hearing a talented and polished musician and vocalist turn their gaze towards the past with inventiveness and affection.