Help Yourself- - Passing Through The Complete Studio Recordings( [Esoteric Records/ Cherry Red - 2021]
Passing Through is a six-CD boxset bringing together all of the studio work from Help Yourself. A London based rock group that existed in the early ’70s and created more of a USA focused sound which shifted from barroom blues-rock, melodic country-rock, though to lightly acid-tinged psych-rock. Like many bands of this period they largely slipped into obscurity- so it’s great to see the folks at prog/ 70 rock focused Esoteric Records releasing this rather classy looking boxset.
Each of the Cd’s in the set come in their own largely colourful mini slip sleeve (one mini gatefold), which reproduce each albums original artwork. Also featured is a glossy and colourful forty-six-page inlay booklet- this of course takes in the expected album credits/ for each album, a new eighteen-page essay about the band, as well as a host of unseen photos, band interview snippets, etc. We also get a mini fold-out poster- taking in pictures of the band & album cover work, with the whole thing packed inside a glossy flipside box- which features on its front cover reproduction of the band self-titled debut album, which takes in a storybook-like illustration of a group of smiling children in a mystical land full of winking ‘n’ smiling jelly mountains, houses made of sweets, and liberally sprinkled of oversized liquorice all-sorts. Really a lovely presented set, and it’s great to see Esoteric Records going that extra mile for this cursorily American sounding British band.
Help Yourself started out in the year 1970 as the backing band for Malcolm Morley- a London based rock singer, guitarist and keyboardist- who was active from the late ’60s in projects such as Blues-rock band Sam Apple Pie, Man- a West Coast sounding psych /prog rock band with blues touches, and more straight pub rock band Bees Make Honey. The band's initial line-up featured Morely- keyboards, guitar & vocals. Richard Treece – guitar, bass, vocals. and Dave Charles – drums, percussion, vocals. Roger Batty
The first CD in the boxset takes in the bands self-titled debut album- this originally appeared in the year 1971 on Liberty records. It featured nine tracks, and really from this first album, you could easily be convinced the band were a stateside project- as there’s nothing English sounding here at tall. We kick off with the strutting ‘n’ lightly grooving “I Must See Jesus For Myself” with upbeat blues-rock guitars, jiving barroom keys, and smoky-yet-wailing male vocals. As we move on, we come to the upbeat country-tinged rock of “Your Eyes Are Looking Down” which feels very much like a crossbreed between Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Birds. We have the tight acoustic rock strum and even drumming of “Paper Leaves” which feels like the missing link between Neil Youngs solo work and 70’s Bob Dylan. And towards the end of the felt and forlorn Ballad “Deborah” with its slow bounding keys, wavering and fragile male vocals, and subtle guitar traces. As debut albums go, it’s a nice tight and assured collection of songs. Sure, it wears its influences clearly on its sleeve, and won’t startle you with its originality- but there is variation in pace, and largely a good selection of memorable 70’s rock.
Moving onto disc number two and we have the bands second album 1972’s Strange Affair- this saw the project signing to United Artists. The original album took in eight tracks, and this adds on bonus shorter single version of one of the album's tracks. The album saw the band deepening their country-rock and barroom rock sound, adding in light psych and more American folk-blues touches. We go from the urgent acoustic strum, sightly ram shackled if rising harmony vocals, and light grooving/ lightly simmer organ & electric guitar of “Brown Lady”. We have the boogie-woogie keys meets wailing blues-rock stomp of “Heaven Row” with it rocked out gospel female backing vocals. With the original album been topped off with another ballad “Many Ways Of Meeting”- which mixes forthright-if-slightly forlorn piano runs and drum marches topped with waving felt vocals. I’d say the band's song construction has improved on this album, though maybe the memorability of the tracks has lessened a bit - all making Strange Affair a passable and enjoyable enough follow-up.
Onto disc three and we have 1972’s Beware The Shadow- this once again was on United Artists, and featured seven tracks- though this CD adds in five bonus tracks. This album feels more consistent and varied than the last album, and there’s both more urgency, melody and atmosphere present. We kick off with “Alabama Lady” which is a great upfront blues-rock tune edged with great country-rock swing ‘n’ zinging. There’s wind open strum ‘n’ pick meets simply sing-song rousing chorus of “She's My Girl” which later on gets a chugging stutt in its steps with grooving organ and slide guitar touches. We have the bounding and rising “American Mother” with mid-pace Steppenwolf keys and rocking blues down the dusty highway verse, meets 70’s singer song chorus. Or finishing off the album another classy ballad in the form of Passing Through- with its clear US folk country rock strum ‘n’ pick and waving-impassioned vocals. All in all Beware The Shadow is a much more satisfying and rounded record than Strange Affair.
Moving onto disc number four and we have 1973’s The Return Of Ken Whaley / Happy Day- which was the bands fourth album and its limited second bonus disk album. So in total, this CD features fifteen tracks, and I guess on the whole this album feels like a largely more meaty/ rocked-up version of their country-rock template- with often quite Bowie-like wining and waving vocals on top. I guess of the albums thus far it’s the most distinctive sounding- though I felt there were less memorable songwriting, and at points, it does become somewhat cliched in it’s 70’s rock stylings. We go from the set percussive bang ‘n’ crash meets strumming country-rock twang of “Pioneers Of The West In The Head”. Onto jaunting showy keys meets strutting more rocked ‘n’ slight funked rocking of “Man We’ve Glad We Know”, through to wailing and wavering female-led prog folk-rock of “Seashell” with a rather awkward meant to sound epic rising chorus. The album(s) is finished off with a straight blue rock stomp groove and wailing slide of “Elephant By My Side”. In conclusion, this disc material feels more formal 70’s rock-like, and I guess it’s ok- I just miss the more folk/ country touches that had been prevalent on the previous album.
Disc five takes in 5- this was the unreleased album that was recorded in the summer of 1973. And this is a ten-track album, with this CD adding on five bonus tracks. The sound here is going more into the 70’s rock sound, though there is an often mellow blues and lightly white soul edge to proceedings- and it’s probably the most uneven of the albums here, as the band really seem to lost their identity somewhat. We go from bounding sing-song writer keys meets almost theatrical sing-song of “Cowboy Song” which features wild west tail themed lyrics that seems at odds with the songs musical backing. We have the waving and ill-fitting Robyn Hitchcock like vocals, jaunting organ fills meets blue rock sway of “Romance In A Tin”. On the slighter better side of things we have the lighter Dire Strait's strut and bass dart of “Martha”, the acoustic guitar country rock strum ‘n’ dart meets soulfully warbling vocals of “Willow”, or the dramatic tolling/ rising keys meets tick-tock blues-rock of “Duneburgers” which feels like the missing link between Neil Young and Pink Floyd. So 5 is a decidedly mixed album, but there are rewarding / even moments to be found.
The final disc in the set is entitled Malcolm Morley’s Lost And Found- and as its title suggests this is a solo album, with some help from his Help Yourself buddies. It’s an eleven-track affair and apparently, the tracks were recorded in the year 1976. And very much to its title, it feels like a collection of tracks, than a solid/ consistent album- though the song quality is certainly better than that of the 5 album. We go from upfront boogie-woogie piano touched blue rock swagger of “Burning Love”, there are the honkytonk harmonica country-rock boundings of “Honey Please” which rather brought to mind Pigpen fronted Grateful Dead tracks. We have the wondering piano-led 70’s singer-song balladeering of “Grace”, or
rising acoustic strum and pick of “Naked As The Night”. On the whole, a much more consistent disc than 5, though I guess it is debatable if it should be part of this boxset as it really is a collection of Morley solo tracks.
Passing Through is a lovely presented and nicely put together boxset. And while some discs on this set are somewhat mixed, on the whole, I’d say if you enjoy 1970’s rock that shifts between blues-tinged bar rock, more country-rock stylings, and light psych rock- this set is certainly something worth considering pick-up.