Sunday, June 23, 2019

Helix Goes Old School - Which In Today's Rock Climate Is Good News!

Helix is a rock band you may have never heard of. In Canada they are legendary. In the states they peaked in the mid 1980's. You may or may not have heard songs like Heavy Metal Love or Rock You, but the impact of this music was huge in Canada and in certain U.S. markets. The band has kept itself alive with various lineups and have emerged with a brand new album called Old School. For fans of Motley Crue, Alice Cooper, Poison and AC/DC, this music isn't glossy or weighed down with compression or gimmickry. It's full strength rock and roll that hearkens back to both the 70's and 80's. The guitars aren't just in the mix, they are the mix.

The one constant throughout the years has been vocalist and founder Brian Vollmer. Brian has decided to go back to the band's roots with this new album. This is a greasy, sleazy rock album that will appeal to glam rockers and old school heavy metal fans.Produced by longtime Helix bassist Daryl Gray, mixed by Juno award winner Siegfried Meier and mastered by Harry Hess. The lead single "Coming Back With Bigger Guns" might be a metaphor for the quality material and the new partnership with Perris Records. The album is a full plate of rock and roll morsels. "Tie Me Down" is a nice slice of double entendre that will recall some of the classic mid-tempo power ballads of bands like Warrant and Def Leppard. The material on this album was culled from a large store of unused material the band wrote years ago. Harry Hess's meticulous production breathes even more life into these newly unearthed gems.

"Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound" is an absolute classic Helix style rocker with a great guitar break and solo that extends far beyond the formulaic fare that other record labels are mass producing. Helix really never let go of their early 80's hard rock Canadian sound. There is a certain punkishness mixed in with the melodic scales. This is evidenced on "If Tears Could Talk", again with a note bending guitar solo that takes you on a nice little ride. "Your Turn To Cry" is another decent mid-speed rocker with strong choruses and guitars that mingle nicely and then again treat the listener to a big, beefy solo. "Closer" feels like another rock radio hit with punchy riffs, big choruses and another really enjoyable guitar solo. "Games Mother Never Taught You" is a fun, what-rock-used-to-sing-about hard rocking gem with more great choruses and bangin' drums and guitars.

If "Old School" mainstream rock stations still dotted the landscape, this music would fit nicely next to any classic rock band from the 1970's and 80's. Bands like Helix are important to the music scene even today. They are reminders of what rock used to represent. There is grit and excess and an intrinsic sense of melody in this music. It's the kind of album you can crank up loud as you cruise the highway in your Camaro Z-28. Age has not mellowed this fine, underrated band. In all honesty there is a lot of Helix in other bands that have gone on to be more recognizable and famous. But one thing is clear, these guys are still going strong after all these years and this album rocks!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Thierry Condor's City Nights Is Flawless West Coast Ride

Thierry Condor
City Nights 
Niro Music

Thierry Condor lives in Switzerland. His heritage is both French and Italian. And he's spent some formidable time in California absorbing west coast jazzy pop into his DNA. Vocally, Thierry is familiar. In his voice you hear the likes of Barry Gibb, Michael Jackson, Christopher Cross and David Pack. His voice is like an all star cast of sounds from the golden age of groove based pop made from the mid 1970's to the early 80's. This is actually Condor's 5th musical excursion. And with each album, he only perfects his west coast magic more and more.

"City Nights" is a silky smooth ride through 13 stellar tracks. "One Night In Monte Carlo" should get some airplay on the few remaining smooth jazz stations stateside. This lush, upbeat song will have you moving your feet and following the story line of exotic love. The glistening production features Claudio Cervino's masterful guitar combined with some wonderful production by Urs Wiesendanger. "Driving To LA" has a modern Little River Band sound to it with more bounce. West coast legend Jay Graydon lends his funky guitar to the mix. This actually happens a lot. People who can't find work here in the states are asked to help on fruitful projects overseas. The title track to the collection slows it down a tad but what is true throughout is the lack of a bad song. There are no clunkers in this collection. Vocals are produced with a syrupy goodness that makes for some perfect ear candy. Headphones only make the experience more enjoyable. Another highlight is "Day By Day" which has a real Al Jarreau meets Bill LaBounty vibe. The album is totally authentic in it's imitation of those who've come before.

Thierry's 18 year old daughter Vanessa guests on "The Same Melody". Her voice sounds wonderful next to dad's. The song is sweet and sentimental. Duets like these don't exist anymore. This will make you think of James Ingram and Patti Austin or something similar. "Full Blown Love Affair" time travels the listener back to 1981. It's funky pop with a gigantic hook. It might even get you to the dance floor. "So Into You" is a breezy mid tempo smooth jazz number. These songs all have an indelible quality. They have the power to stick with you and become recognizable and familiar very quickly. "Only The Lonely" is another standout track taking a more straight forward approach but again will draw you in with the chorus and the punchy drumbeat. The album concludes with dueling smooth jazz guitars coupled with some light horns on"Saint-Tropez". A fitting conclusion to a near flawless recording.

"City Nights" is a west coast pop-jazz-rock masterpiece. Years ago this album would be considered Grammy worthy. These days we can hope it at least gets noticed next to the pile of musical mediocrity that obscures it. This is the west coast album of the year so far.

Thanks to Niro Music for the promo CD and the faith in my reviewing skills!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Michael Mills Band....We Want More!

Real music in real time! It doesn't get more real than The Michael Mills Band. A funky blues rock band from Huntington Beach California. They've released a 5 song EP called Dream A Dream. Yes the immediate downside is that after you listen to these extremely well produced songs, you crave more. Maybe that was the objective. In any case what you hear in these grooves will restore your faith in the old school ways. This warm up set leads off with "My New Woman" a song with some Gospel background vocals and an instant dance groove. Mills lays down a vocal landing somewhere between Kim Wilson (The Fab T-Birds) and Kenny Wayne Shepherd but with a much more laid back delivery. The song fades on the guitar solo. A crime because I would have paid more for this CD to hear the outtro that might be on some computer. Jesse Godoy is a smooth player with an understated yet confident vibe. His guitar is soulful on all 5 tracks. "Baby I'm Your Man" has hints of the Neville Brothers and a few other soulful legends. Again the guitar solo is tasteful. Also influencing these boys are their California surroundings. Surely this could be part of a west coast playlist. "Dream A Dream" is the get up and dance number that borders on Motown and will put a smile on your face. The rhythm section of bass player Scot Campbell and drummer Ron Ravicchio are rock solid. This band must be a smoking live show. "Tryin' To Forget You Baby" is the slow burner of the set and it highlights Godoy's clear ringing guitar tones. Even though it's more of a torch blues number it never gets bogged down mainly due to the fine production and the way the song moves along. Again, the guitar solo is worth the price of the CD all by itself. "Fade Away" wraps things up with a big horn section playing off the guitars as if last call was just announced. It's a mid tempo gem featuring some great sax. It's tough to judge a band on 5 original songs. But honestly between the production and the compositions, this music is light years ahead of much of what constitutes contemporary blues today. So long as these guys promise more music soon, I'll gladly give this album a perfect 10. To be continued...