Essence of English country-rock also-rans preserved for posterity on a neat twofer.
Cut from the same cloth as BRONCO and COCHISE – the latter having received the same treatment on Esoteric – today many remember THE HELPS thanks to their association with MAN, yet their forte was quite different. Brilliantly laid-back, this English band excelled in the American sonics and, in pursuit of that, didn’t seem to care about packing a punch which, over the course of five albums in three years, all represented here, became their undoing.
Not that these musicians were ever strangers to protracted soloing: keyboard player and guitarist Malcolm Morley used that approach with SAM APPLE PIE who he left them after their first LP to create THE HELPS, yet his new endeavor sometimes took it to the testing limit. Thus, it takes “American Mother” from 1972’s “Beware The Shadow” no less than 100 second to introduce vocals, the piece’s slow build-up barely developing. No wonder, then, that after that album Morley suffered a nervous breakdown and the group’s loveable bassist Ken Whaley quit, together with their roadie Sean Tyla – the writer of epic, calm to wah-wah storm and back again, instrumental “The All Electric Fur Trapper” for “Strange Affair” earlier in the year – to form DUCKS DELUXE. Together, Ken and Malcolm shine on “Alabama Lady,” the group’s closest approximation of the West Coast catchy zest
It was even lighter in the beginning, when the group’s self-titled debut rolled much simpler things such as the breezy, thanks to the six-string web and a Latin-tinged percussion, “Running Down Deep,” although “Street Songs” fails to flower on its repetition and the slightly humorous “I Must See Jesus For Myself” outstays its welcome. Still, tremulously transparent, acoustic “Brown Lady,” colored with organ strokes, and the fantastic piano plea of “Deborah” steal the show from the likes of sweet Neil Young-esque “Old Man” or the luxurious boogie of “Heaven Row” whose female-backed chorus is one of the most memorable in the ensemble’s repertoire. Yet the 12-minute “It Has To Be” off the tellingly titled “The Return Of Ken Whaley” from 1973 and “Reaffirmation” are acid-seared adventures, space folk effects on the former and brass and strings on the latter augmenting the band’s mesmerizing interplay – initially sparse but gradually petrifying into a riff.
More riffs were added when MAN’s Deke Leonard stepped in for Morley – who subsequently joined MAN and took Whaley and a couple of THE HELPS numbers with him – and his licks spice up the rare single “Mommy Won’t Be Home For Christmas” and a cosmic live recording of “Eddie Waring” from the psychedelic shindig "Christmas At The Patti", and “Who Killed Paradise” pitches a sharp guitar figure in the unplugged bliss before “Blown Away” rocks an intricate Eastern motif into the pogo. So when “Virginia” and “I’ve Got Beautiful You” tap into the homecoming theme, there’s a genuine testament to the ensemble’s helpless power. They pulled too many punches to make an impact – a pity.