The Doctor, Brent Doerner, departed Helix in 1989. His presence was missed by long time fans. Although he rejoined in the 90s, it was only briefly. Through the decade, he maintained his chops and took up country music in the clubs. This added new dimensions to his playing when he inevitably returned to rock. After spending a decade and a half as a “guitarpenter”, Brent decided he wanted to get back into music and make a statement on his own. “I was bound and determined, come hell or high water, to make an album,” he said. With a new band called Decibel consisting of Shane Schedler on lead guitar, the late Ralph “Chick” Schumilas on guitar, and Dan Laurin on drums, Brent did just that. “If you don’t write good songs, it ain’t gonna fly baby,” says Brent. Fortunately, the guys had a bunch of them.
The band lineup included three guitar players, two of them soloists. On this disc, the triple axe attack is joined by future Helix guitarist Kaleb Duck on a couple tracks.
Opener “The Sum of 2 People” begins with a lethal riff and a slow, determined groove. It then detours into a psychedelic, watery sound with Doener’s clever lyric contrasting love with math. “X and y are the fractions, multiplied by nine! Our love exceeds the math of the sum of two people.” Good song, excellent set of words from the Doctor, showing off his underappreciated lyrical talents. The track itself is quite varied, with a variety of connected parts and a classic sounding guitar solo.
Brent plays bass on most of the album, but Mike Benedictine guests on the wickedly choppy “A Body For You”. “I’d hide a body for you, baby!” goes the chorus, but the riff is the real killer. This is a challenging song, but check out the cool dual guitar bit in the middle. Very vintage Helix.
The highlight track is third in line: the pure boogie of “Takin the Color Right Outta Da Blooze”. This is an upbeat, slide-laden track made for shaking asses. Had there been a single, this is the clear choice. It has the taste of twang, and unforgettable hooks. It’s pure joy set to music. “We’re getting bull-ridin’-ready!” sings the good doctor. This is just a song about letting loose, and it’s the perfect accompaniment to doing just that. Awesome track.
Another killer track, “On Bended Knee” has a vibe similar to early 80s Kim Mitchell – think songs like “Miss Demeanor”. Simply excellent mid-tempo sentimental rock. There’s something slightly majestic about the chorus guitar hook.
Drummer brother Brian Doerner guests on “Fire in the Bedroom”, a suitably upbeat rocker. Giddy up, says Brent. Solid advice. The excellent solo features some of that twang but this otherwise pure rock and roll smoke. Just fun. Brian on drums adds a different flavour; a little more sophisticated rhythm and brainy fills.
If you like bands with multiple lead vocalists, then you will be pleased to note that guitarist Shane Schedler takes the microphone on “Never Turn Yer Back”. He has a higher tone to his voice, and he throws in a soulful twist. The song itself has an early Van Halen kind of vibe. Mike Benedictine is back on bass, but that’s not him on the impressively dexterous intro! “I play that, says Brent. “I play the intro and the exit on that. That’s from me being a guitar player; it sounded cool on bass.” He’s right! Another album highlight.
“Breathe My Name” has a cool kick to it, and an unorthodox groove. A lot of the tunes on this album are smarter than you’d think. They’re not meat and potatoes rock. They have different rhythms throughout, changing and shifting and then suddenly sounding like another genre. “Breathe My Name” largely rocks, but not in a brick-headed way.
There are no ballads on this album, but “Stainless Steel Emotion” is the most laid back of the songs, and really emphasises a southern twang. Again, the riff recalls early Kim Mitchell, which might be why it sounds so classic. “Got up late, felt not so great, with alcohol blues. She just laughed, turned on the gas and waited for the boom!” A funny, quirky song about love gone sour. You can’t particularly compare “Stainless Steel Emotion” to any single band. Brent likes writing unique songs, and this one has the right fit to be second last on an album.
Hilliard Walter, who would later join the band on bass and vocals, sings lead on the unique “Dancing Frogs (The Zamboni Song)”. The powerhouse soul-blues vocalist kicks the song up about eighteen notches with class and sass. The vibe of the song evokes the classic image of the dancing frog from the Warner Brothers cartoon One Froggy Evening. “You can just picture the dancing frog with the top hat and the cane,” Doerner explains. Why “The Zamboni Song”? Because Hills Walter drove one! “We’ve got the best damn Zamboni operator/driver/singer/lead vocalist in the country, man!” There’s an old automobile “ooga” horn in there too, as a final original touch. Do Zambonis have horns?
It must be stated: Brent Doerner did not create an “immediate” sounding album on his debut. He didn’t set out to make simple music. The songs have twists in them, but also great hooks that will get you in time. You notice by second listen, the hooks have started to set in. The running order could probably be improved by opening with something catchier like “A Body For You” instead of the menacing “The Sum of 2 People”, but your experience may vary. If only the album had big-budget production. Some of the songs could have had potential.
Must-haves: “Takin the Color Right Outta Da Blooze”, “A Body For You”, “On Bended Knee”, “Never Turn Yer Back”, “Stainless Steel Emotion” and “The Zamboni Song”.