Last May, after months of rehabilitation from a life-threatening head injury suffered in a traffic collision, Haydain Neale decided he was well enough to return to the recording studio. It was time to make another Jacksoul record.

Neale still had difficulty singing, but he had recorded some demo tracks of new songs shortly before being struck by a car on Aug. 3, 2007, while driving his Vespa scooter on a Toronto street.

Neale reviewed the tapes. His voice was solid. There was more than enough there to make a CD.

Neale assembled his bandmates in a Toronto studio, selected the 10 best songs and started building full album tracks around the vocal demos. Things came a little bit slower than before the accident, but he was in control, orchestrating every step of the production.

But it wasn’t long into those sessions that Neale was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was a stunning blow, coming to someone who had already persevered through so much. And it seemed so unjust. He wasn’t a smoker, according to friends, not even a drinker.

Neale chose to keep the diagnosis private and focus instead on the music. Only a few close friends and family were told, as the band continued working in the studio.

“It was definitely emotional,” recalls keyboard player Ron Lopata. “We were brothers. We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve been on the road together. We’ve shared buses. We were a very close group of friends.”

Last month, Jacksoul’s record label (Sony Music Canada) announced the new album, SOULmate, would be released today.

Fans, unaware of the cancer diagnosis, were buoyed by the news.

Neale lived long enough to see the record to completion. But he died Nov. 22 in Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital at 39, just 10 days before SOULmate’s release.

Lopata — credited with Neale as co-producer of SOULmate — said he understood the singer’s decision to keep his cancer private.

“Haydain’s outlook was always positive,” Lopata said. “He always felt ‘I’m going to continue, I’m going to make music for as long as I can do it. I’m going to put my heart and soul into it ...’
“I think it was a matter that he didn’t want (the cancer) to be a focus for anyone. He was always on the route for getting better and that was the focus.”

The first single off the album is called Lonesome Highway. It was written before the scooter accident but eerily foretells of Neale’s future struggles.

“You’re going to hear a lot of amazing songs that now have more meaning than they did before,” Lopata said. “You’ll listen to it and say, ‘Unbelievable, it’s just like he’s a fortune teller ...’”

Tribute concert
• Nelly Furtado and k-os headline a tribute concert for Haydain Neale at the Phoenix Concert Theatre on Dec. 7. Tickets ($20) go on sale tomorrow.