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Help Yourself - 5 CD (album) cover


Help Yourself

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2 stars This is one of those throwback albums like Proto-Kaw’s ‘Early Recordings of Kansas’ or Midwinter’s ‘The Waters of Sweet Sorrow’. Like those records this was originally a series of preliminary studio tracks that were never released as an album when they were first recorded (in this case, in 1973). Help Yourself fractured around that time with several tracks on studio tapes but not released. Some of them were included on a Malcolm Morley solo project, but that also was never released (to the best of my knowledge).

Most of the original members of the band got together in 2002 and finished production on these tracks though, leading to its release in 2004. I’m not sure exactly what the point of Rick Griffin’s ‘Wrench Boy’ painting is on the cover, but it’s kind of cool – maybe intended to reflect the working-class nature of the original Helps lineup.

The sound here is more even than their seventies studio albums, with no meandering psych hippie excursions like ‘Excerpts from “The All Electric Fur Trapper”’ or “Reaffirmation”, so in that respect it shows some maturity and polish to a band that was otherwise kind of charmingly out-of-control when it came to studio work back in their heyday.

But on the other hand any suggestion of a progressive sound is also absent. The Helps were never more than a marginally progressive band anyway; they could be described as experimental, but could just as easily have been called noncommittal, so its hard to say if they were looking to expand their sound or just to find one that would get people to listen to them.

Their ‘Strange Affair’ album from 1972 had a couple of tracks that bordered on a west-coast country sound ala Firefall, and on this album that sound is out in full force. The opening track would easily have fit on a Firefall album, or maybe Ambrosia. The band also continues their penchant for sounding more like an American country-inspired band than like the British rockers that they actually were. This is quite evident on “Cowboy Song” and the de facto title track “Monkey Wrench”.

For “Romance in a Tin” the boys brought in Ian Hunter and asked him to pen a sequel to “Irene Wilde”, which is exactly what he did.

Okay, just kidding there, but the vocals, tempo and lyrical message on that tune seems like it was meant to be just what I described. A little borderline fuzz guitar for effect, but this is almost a ballad really.

These are followed by the Keith Carradine-sounding love song “Grace” and the Jimmy Buffet calypso love song “Martha”, both of which are interesting sounds for the group but largely forgettable in the overall framework of this album (and of their career).

The one track on the album that I would say is an attempt to recapture past psychedelic experiences is the six-minute “The Rock”. But I get the impression these guys had cleaned up their acts long ago visa vie recreational stimulants, so this one comes off feeling a bit forced and awkward. Very nice guitar work though, and pretty heavy for a band like this which tended toward a more mellow sound. “Alley Cat” later on the album is similar but on that one the tempo is a bit looser and seems less strained.

And speaking of mellow, “Willow” is a seriously authentic-sounding throwback to the CSN acoustic-n-harmonies days of the very early seventies. Nice.

Finally “Duneburgers” I believe is a reworking of a 1973 tune the band recorded around the time of “The Return of Ken Whaley” titled “Eating Duneburgers”. This is the other psych-inspired tune on the album, but it is toned down considerably from the laid- back fuzz and patchouli sound the band worked into their psych tunes back then. A natural-sounding ending to the album, and likely and end to any new material from the band.

This is a nice flashback to the late days of the Help Yourself experience, and its always cool to get a chance to listen to music that has essentially sat in a time capsule for a couple of decades. But unless you are a Helps fan, or at least a pretty big fan of Wishbone Ash / Home / Allman Brothers / Ambrosia music from the early seventies, you probably won’t find much here to get excited about. So that makes this a ‘fans-only’ recording, although I certainly don’t find anything particularly wrong with any of the tracks here. And since I fit the above description, it has a place in my collection.


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Posted Thursday, November 22, 2007 | Review Permalink

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