White Lace & Black Leather

REVIEW(S): Helix – Breaking Loose, White Lace & Black Leather (2019 expanded editions)

HELIX –

  • Breaking Loose – 40th Anniversary Expanded Edition (originally 1979, 2019 Prog AOR)
  • White Lace & Black Leather – Classic Hard Rock Expanded Edition (originally 1981, 2019 Prog AOR)

Helix have really done it this year. They have a new album (Old School) made up of some pretty excellent songs that were never completed before. On top of that, you can also get brand new reissues of their first two indi albums, Breaking Loose and White Lace & Black Leather.  Those two albums have already been reviewed in full, so this time we will focus primarily on the perks of these new CD versions.

Both discs feature lyrics, rare photos, and liner notes by Brian Vollmer.  All essential things for a reissue, so what else?  Unreleased tracks, that’s what else.  Good ones!  The hell, Brian?  Where have you been hiding this stuff?  If anyone assumed thought Helix cleared the vaults with their B-Sides album, they were mistaken.  Maybe Universal should have been storing their tapes at Planet Helix….

Too soon?

Breaking Loose features “Let Me Take You Dancin'” (not the Bryan Adams song), apparently the first song they ever recorded, at the behest of manager William Seip.  You can understand why they didn’t put it out, considering the Disco revolution going around.  It’s too dance-y for what Helix wanted to be:  a rock band.  With 40 years hindsight, it’s bloody brilliant.  Full-on horn section blasting away on a blatantly commercial rock song with just a whif of surf rock.  Nothing wrong with any of that in 2019.  “Sidewalk Sally” is the very first Brent Vollmer/Brian Doerner composition and you can tell by Dr. Doerner’s trademark chunky riff.  This song is strictly outtake quality, but it’s notable for historic reasons (and the pretty advanced drumming by Brian Doerner).

The second album, White Lace & Black Leather, has two interesting bonus cuts as well.  Brent Doerner wrote and sang a killer tune called “When the Fire is Hot”, which is one of the songs submitted to Capitol that got them signed.  It’s never been released.  It’s a very unpolished demo, but with a serious stomp and stunning guitar solo.  The final bonus track is an unreleased early version of “White Lace & Black Leather”, which was re-recorded for their third album No Rest for the Wicked.  See, for the first couple Helix albums, you had to wait until the next record to get the title track!

A brief talk about the albums themselves:  both are chock full of great, unpolished youthful rock.  Helix were just learning how to make records, but they had more than enough original material.  Between the key songwriters (Paul Hackman, Brian Vollmer & Brent Doerner), they had plenty of quality songs.  “Billy Oxygen”, “I Could Never Leave”, “Here I Go Again”, “You’re a Woman Now” and “Wish I Could Be There” from the first album alone are must-haves.  Nobody should be forced to live their life without hearing “Billy Oxygen”.  The second LP was almost as great as the first.  “It’s Too Late”, “Breaking Loose”, “Mainline”, and “It’s What I Wanted” stand with the best material from the first.  Sure, the band were rough around the edges, but they could already sing, play and write.  They were goin’ places!

As for the mastering job, the music is not brickwalled like the versions of some songs on the Rock It Science CD.  These discs are the versions to get; the expanded tracklist making them musts to the collecting fan who already own them all.  Best of all, Planet Helix is offering them and the new Helix album for just 40 bucks.  40 bucks for 3 CDs is a ridiculous deal.  I daresay these two albums have been steady companions to me over the years, and I look forward to re-enjoying them in this new form.

5/5 stars for Breaking Loose

4/5 stars for White Lace & Black Leather

 

REVIEW: Helix – White Lace & Black Leather (1981 H&S)

Part two of a Helix three-fer!

HELIX – White Lace & Black Leather (1981 H&S)

Having already done it once themselves, why not do it again?  Once again Helix with manager Bill Seip raised the funds to record an independent album.  Drummer Brian Doerner was gone, replaced by Leo Niebudek.  On bass, Keith “Bert” Zurbrigg hung around long enough to record one new song (“It’s Too Late”).  He was replaced by the young, talented and troubled Mike Uzelac.  He was only 17 when he first joined Helix.  He told them he was 19.

Sticking to the same formula as Breaking Loose, there is really no deviation in sound.  Some members have changed but little else.  The band still managed to come up with enough good material to fill an album to follow the first.  I don’t know if the track “Breaking Loose” was a leftover from the first album or not, but quality-wise there is nothing “leftover” about it.  I would call it a typical Helix party rocker: a fast one, often used back in the day to open their sets.  The lyrics are the kind of thing that Helix were about:  the weekend!

“4 O’clock Friday afternoon,
Punch that time clock, now you’ll be home soon,
Your week’s all done, now it’s time to roll,
You’re like a time bomb about to explode.”

Vollmer reminds us “You only got two days, so make it last,” a philosophy I heartily agree with.  Brent Doerner and Paul Hackman lay down a pair of ripping guitar solos for the icing on the cake.  Then “It’s Too Late” is the kind of melodic mid-tempo rocker that their first album was loaded with.  Surely something like “It’s Too Late” could have worked on the radio, and I think that was the intent.  That takes away nothing from the song, which is classy with quality.

“Long Distance Heartbreak” at almost seven minutes is Helix’s longest song ever.  In the early days they tended to experiment with their songwriting, coming up with the odd mini-epic.  Like many Helix classics, this one reads as a road song.  Thin Lizzy they were not, but Vollmer captures the heartbreak in their lyrics while Doerner and Hackman take care of the guitar drama.

Helix get even more serious for a moment with “Time For a Change”, and “Hangman’s Tree” also brings a few issues to the table.  “Time For a Change” is sadly even more valid today.

“Everyday there’s a new headline,
Another war and another lie,
When will we learn to stop this killing while we can?”

It’s interesting that Helix didn’t seem to know their direction yet, but still infused every song with their bare honesty.  They were riding a line between a party band and a more serious, more experimental rock band.  In the end they chose the route that they were intended for, but that takes nothing away from these early songs.  “Time For a Change” and “Hangman’s Tree” are unexpectedly ambitious for a young bar band from Canada.  In each case, it is the guitar work that elevates the songs.

WHITE LACE

“It’s What I Wanted” lightens the mood, a mid-tempo rocker with a great melody. I don’t know why it is, but these melodic rock songs really sound like home to me. They conjure images of a more innocent time, when the world seemed smaller to me. They capture and bring back hazy, happy pictures of Kitchener in the late 70’s.

Brent Doener comes back with his only lead vocal on the track “Mainline”. Sounds like Brent was having no trouble getting satisfaction back then. “She keeps me happy, what can I say?” he sings, lamenting that his lady keeps him up all night and late for work in the morning! “Pick up my cheque at the end of the day, I find I’m down a couple hours’ pay.” So in essence, “Mainline” is about choices. You can either have tons and tons of sex at all hours of the day, or get to work on time. It’s your choice, people!

“Women, Whiskey & Sin” is pretty simple in its message. This smoking track is more like Helix would evolve on later albums like No Rest For the Wicked. “Ain’t no laws to hold us back on a Saturday night,” sings Brian Vollmer. (Hate to tell ya Brian, there actually are laws about some of the things you boys were doing back in the day!) Then “Thoughts That Bleed” is a proggy, slow closer with lots of dynamics, similar to how Helix ended the first album with “Wish I Could Be There”.

Ultimately there is no question that Helix made the right move to drop some of these softer, more progressive moments and focus on the heavy metal side of their sound. It got them signed to Capitol Records and secured their biggest hits. That leaves these first two albums as evidence of an earlier, more naive Helix willing to stretch out a bit more.

4/5 stars

Part 177 / REVIEW: Helix – Live! In Buffalo

Another double feature for y’all boys and girls.  First the Record Store Tale, then the review…

Brent live October 3 2007

RECORD STORE TALES Part 177:  Hot On the Heels of Love

The record store had begun selling Brent Doerner’s Decibel, the first solo album by the ex-Helix guitarist on consignment.  My buddy Chuck hooked me up with a copy.  I opened it up, and lo and behold — another buddy of mine, and one of my best customers, was playing guitar in Brent’s band!  I have talked about Shane Schedler in the past, he was a great guy and I was glad he had hooked up with Brent.

I met Brent at a Helix gig at Molly Bloom’s, told him about how I knew Shane from my store, and this led to our first interview, which I published a while ago on this site.  I did numerous other writing jobs for Brent over the years as well.

Anyway, we shot the shit for a couple hours, just talking about music.  He was very passionate about songwriting, particularly lyrics.  Sometimes he would come up with a catchy song title or interesting phrase, and try to write lyrics around it.  He was heavily influenced by the lyrics of Burton Cummings, from The Guess Who.

“I like the fact that Burton Cummings kind of sang in riddles,” said Brent.  “You could listen to the song 100 times and try to pick the meaning out of the sentences.  And therefore, it doesn’t have a high burnout factor.  When I’m writing, that’s the big challenge.  I don’t want it to have a burnout factor.”

“I worked really hard at getting unique titles…I want unique titles so I can have unique songs,” he told me.

Chatting away, Brent told me of some future song ideas.  “I really want to write a song called ‘Hot on the Heels of Love’,” he said.  At first, I was quiet, and kind of confused.  Brent seemed to be waiting for my reaction.

“Brent,” I said, “You already have a song called that.”

“No I don’t,” he answered, and then paused.  “Really?”

“Yeah you do.  It’s on one of the Helix live albums,” I told him, trying to not embarrass him!

“Really?  Which one?” he asked me.

We were in his basement, sitting at this beautiful bar.  He had a small CD tower down there in the basement, with a complete selection of every Helix album he’d ever appeared on.  I studied the tower and spotted the album I was looking for:  Live! In Buffalo, which was recorded in 1983 but not released until 2001.

“Right there…Live! In Buffalo,” I said, “you have a song on there called ‘Hot On the Heels of Love’, that you sang, but as far as I know Helix never recorded a studio version of it.”

Brent grabbed the CD and looked it over.  Sure enough, there it was.  “Hot On the Heels of Love” is track #9.

I guess this shows that a good song title is a good song title no matter what.  But it was also the first time that LeBrain schooled a member of Helix!  (It was not the last time!)

Onto the review!

HELIX LIVE FRONT

HELIX – Live! In Buffalo (2001 Dirty Dog Records, recorded September 29, 1983)

Right from Vollmer’s first “Let’s rock!” at the beginning of this CD, Live! In Buffalo kicks you in the face and doesn’t stop until the end. Only one ballad (and barely a ballad at that, when performed at this volume), this concert sounds like it was a real sweaty affair. Helix were at the top of their game in ’83, hot on the heels of No Rest For The Wicked and “Heavy Metal Love”. This album is loud, there are no overdubs, this is a pure rock concert with no frills. The music is broken up with the occasional (breathless) intros by Vollmer, but then it’s right back into the high-octane rock.  Incredible to think this album was recorded in the middle of the day!

Sometimes I’ve felt that a good bootleg is much better than a well-recorded live album. There’s no fakery on a bootleg, and there is no fakery here. This was recorded for a radio broadcast, and miraculously the tapes were in good enough shape to release as a CD.

Helix opened with the title track from their current album.  “No Rest For the Wicked” is pounding, Fritz Hinz on the skins, pummeling them into submission, Brent on backing vocals while Vollmer seemingly shreds his own vocal cords.  This version is faster and heavier than the album version, as is every song on Live! In Buffalo.  Even a melodic rocker like “Let’s All Do It Tonite” has more bite.

Brian’s on stage raps are from the Paul Stanley school of thought.  For example, “White Lace & Black Leather”.

“This next song is about those ladies that you meet that got lots of class.  Lots of class…elegance.  When it comes to etiquette they’re at the top of their class…you’ll never find them with the fork on the wrong side of their plate.    You dare never tell a dirty joke to this lady because she’ll get up and leave the table.  But you get that same lady home, that very same night, get her back to your place, get her behind closed doors…she’ll turn out to be a moaner every time!  This is called ‘White Lace & Black Leather’!”

Elsewhere, a grizzled “Ain’t No High Like Rock and Roll” combines catchy licks with a driving melody.  A lot of these early Helix songs are among the best tunes they ever wrote.  Yet unfortunately, they are seldom if ever played anymore.  Thankfully, this album exists to remind us how great Helix can be.

Historically, this is also cool for a couple reasons. One, some of these songs had yet to be recorded on a studio album, such as “6 Strings 9 Lives” and “You Keep Me Rockin'”, which would turn up on the next album.  As mentioned in the above Record Store Tale Part 177, one tune was never released on a studio album at all. That is Brent Doerner’s “Hot On The Heels Of Love”, sung by Brent (don’t forget he also sang “Billy Oxygen”, one of Helix’ first hits from the debut album). It is a gritty fast rocker, with a memorably galvanic riff.

There are some other live offerings out there by Helix, such as Half-Alive and the promo-only Live At The Marquee, but this one blows them all away even though it was just for a radio broadcast. One of my favourite live albums, and one of my favourite Helix CDs.

5/5 R’s!

NEXT TIME ON RECORD STORE TALES:

Part 178:  Some really kooky movie makers…