Helix - Old School

Helix Old School cover
Helix
Old School
Perris Records
2019
Helix are quite a legendary band from Canada; I mean, they’ve been rocking out since before most of us were born and are miraculously still at it, 45 years later… a claim that not a lot of bands can make. They had their heydey during the 80s with a series of big albums on Capitol Records, almost breaking America and kept going through the ups and down and the various line-ups of musicians who performed with the band. The sole survivor, the one guy that’s been there from the beginning is singer Brian Vollmer, a crazy SOB rocker that’s kept the band going on, no matter what… a couple of more members have been there since the 80s, but maybe one of the other guys that was pretty consistent, staying in the band almost from the start up to his untimely death in the early 90s was guitarist Paul Hackman, who’s featured on three tracks on this album and has writing credits on almost all of ‘em.
 
The whole album came about in a rather unorthodox way. At Greg Godovitz (of Goddo fame) insistence, Vollmer didn’t throw out a bunch of old 2 inch studio tapes and a huge box of music cassettes that he had found while cleaning out his home studio. Godovitz made him go through them and they realized that there was about an album’s worth of material that was either left out or was never completed at the time. Some dusting, actual baking of tapes, to make em work one last time, to be transferred on to digital and a whole lot of editing and some overdubbing and re-recording later, the album was “complete”. Three of the songs were recorded for the “Back for Another Taste” album, but weren’t released back then, “Games Mother Never Taught You”, “Tie Me Down”, and “Your Turn to Cry”. Those are the best sounding and feature the late Hackman on guitar and vocals. “Cheers” is a piece that was recorded live and survived on a tape in good enough condition to survive after some “cleaning up”. The rest of the songs were re-created as best as possible, using the blueprints from the demos on the cassettes, with the current lineup adding up stuff and mixing them in such a way as to sound as period true and unobtrusive as possible. For a collection of odds and sods, there’s a little incoherence, but that’s to be expected, since the songs represent different eras of the band, but overall that’s no big issue.
 
Opener “Coming Back with Bigger Guns” is a bawdy mid-tempo that reeks of classic era Helix.
 
“Whiskey Bent and Hellbound” is as bar-rock, as you’d expect it from its title to be, and its big boisterous chorus just hits the spot, just fine. Pretty killer tune.
 
“If Tears Could Talk” is a little more melodic, but it could have been easily on “No Rest...” if it was properly produced way back then.
 
“Your Turn to Cry” is almost a hit, I mean it’s surprising how this track didn’t end up on its intended album. The proper “production however helps it sound “fuller” than most of the rest of the material on the album. It’s especially apparent on the ambiance of the drums.
 
“Tie Me Down” is a quasi-ballad that goes pretty wild midway and ain’t too bad or too great either.
 
I’ve no idea what era “Closer to You” represents, but despite its thrifty rhythms, it’s the first song that sounds not all that impressive and still missing a certain “something’’…
 
“Games Mother Never Taught You” would and could have been easily released as a single, back in the day. Up, beat & rowdy, it begs to be played loud!!!
 
“Southern Comfort” is a party rocker that has a bit of Southern drawl about it, complete with sliding effects, piano and all, but might feel a bit hit or miss…
 
“Hound Dog, Howling Blues” has some live audience sections thrown in, but I doubt it’s live and in a couple of places it even feels as if there are a couple of tape dropouts, who knows. It’s good for what it is, and it’s exactly what it says on the tin/tag.
 
“Cheers” is a piano ballad, which is a little rough – remember it’s supposed to be a souped up live recording from a weathered old tape, but it feels heartfelt and worth the inclusion here.
 
Some nice rarities from the Canadians that probably sound better than what a lot of people seem to be putting out these days. It suffers a bit from inconsistency, both sonic and the mishmash of different eras from which the songs come from, but to the long time Helix fans these songs would be like finding a cure for baldness…