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HELIX Old School

By Jay Roberts, Massachusetts Contributor
Monday, August 12, 2019 @ 1:38 PM

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Old School

Perris Records - 2019

I can trace the beginning of my fandom for HELIX to their 1987 album Wild In The Streets. I bought the album when I was on a trip to a college while in high school. I visited the college bookstore and they had the album on sale there. I picked it up because of how cool the cover image looked and once I got to listen to the music, I was hooked on that album...and have been for more than 30 years. I even wrote about it for a series that I write for another website.

But in a move that might get me sidelined by the rest of HELIX's fans, I have to admit that the Wild In The Streets album was also the figurative ending of my fandom as well. I never had the chance to really get my hands on any of their albums that came before or after the WITS album.

But when I saw that the band had this Old School album coming out, I jumped at the chance to provide a review of the disc. Am I glad that I dove back into the Planet Helix music scene? I'll let you figure that out for yourselves!

The album opens with a slightly mid-to-uptemp song in "Coming Back With Bigger Guns". Initially, I thought it was a strange way to start off the album, with a song that wasn't a blazing capture your attention kind of rocker. But the song (love that title, by the way!) actually has a very cool kind of rhythmic swing to it. Between the music and the seemingly undimmed swagger of Brian Vollmer's vocals, the song just flat out slaps you out of any kind of doldrums you might be in.

The pace of the album does immediately pick up after that with the incredibly titled and hard-hitting wallop of "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound". The song has a sweet set of lyrics to go with the electrically charged soundtrack. While both "If Tears Could Talk" and "Your Turn To Cry" feature titles that might sound as if they would be songs of a ballad nature, you'd be mistaken on that assumption. "If Tears Could Talk" is a lights out rocker and while "Your Turn To Cry" is a bit slower in nature, the song's chorus is fast moving and has a killer hook to it! "Tie Me Down" comes far closer to being a ballad but I was quite surprised to find that the song was rather invigorating. You could've knocked me over with a feather as I listened to the track and realized I wasn't hating it.

So that's five straight songs that I thought were just outstanding. The first half of the album had only whetted my appetite for the second half and for the most part, that appetite was satiated. But I do have to say that I was rather disappointed with the song "Closer". The song's music was fine but my reaction to the vocals was to think that the performance came off a bit too mannered and affected for me to really enjoy the track in full.

But you'll be glad to know that was pretty much my only down note for the album. The very next song on the disc was "Games Mother Never Taught You", a full-on blazing rocker with the kind of vocal "sneer" from Vollmer that I loved hearing on that aforementioned Wild In The Streets album. For sheer rock and roll attitude, this is THE song you need to hear!

If you are looking for more of a party rock feel, check out "Southern Comfort". The lyrics have a little tongue-in-cheek tone to them that left me with a smile on my face.

While the start of the album's closing track "Cheers" didn't sit well with me at first, the growing intensity of the performance as the song progressed made the entirety of the song grow on me. It's a ballad that has a bit of the epic to it. Basically made up of piano and Vollmer's vocals, there's just something about the song that will stick with you after it ends.

The thing about the songs on the album, as explained in an essay in the album's liner notes, is that they were all old material that was found in a box and cleaned up, fixed up and then put together in the finished product the listener hears. The late Paul Hackman played on three of the songs on the album ("Games Mother Never Taught You", "Tie Me Down" and "Your Turn To Cry"). He also co-wrote eight of the songs on Old School.

Of course, it was Kaleb Duck and Chris Julke who played the majority of the guitar on the album and while I'm not sure who did what, I do have to say that "Hound Dog Howlin' Blues" was a great showcase for the six-string work of whomever played on the song. The bluesy rock sound is particularly noteworthy and the latter part of the track is full of great guitar playing.

The material on Old School may be of a vintage variety but it is far from being dated. Cleaned up to be nice and fresh sounding, HELIX has found themselves with a fantastic album on their hands. They are "singing the blues and drowning in booze" but they are doing it in such fine fashion that Old School just happens to be one of the best albums I've heard this year!

4.7 Out Of 5.0

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