You might think of Mama's Gun as the greatest 70s band that never existed, but it is almost certainly the one band that US soul music fans must get to know in 2011. Brimming with funky, infectious rock and soul music, melodic tunes and the elastic vocal work of lead singer, Andy Platts, Mama's Gun could have been standing next to the Steve Miller Band, the Doobie Brothers and especially Hall & Oates back in the day. And they displayed all those skills on their 2009 debut album, Routes to Riches, a left field treasure that won for them fans throughout Europe and even some hipsters in the US.
As word spread early this year about the band's coming sophomore disc, the question that loomed was whether the auspicious Routes was a feel good fluke or whether the quintet was on the verge of becoming something special. With the release The Life and Soul, the members of Mama's Gun make an emphatic statement that they are, indeed, very special. While, save the instantly infectious "On a String," The Life doesn't include the kind of obvious radio hits like "You Are the Music" and "Pots of Gold" that Routes boasted, its unrelenting buoyancy and consistently strong material and vocals make it possibly an even better overall album than its vaunted predecessor.
The disc opens strongly with the chugging pop/soul number "Reconnection" and then delivers one tasty jam after another, with tempos varying but with one constant: terrific tunes, near perfect arrangements and Platts' always on-the-mark tenor. Influences of past greats can be felt throughout the collection, ranging from the sweaty slow jams of AWB ("You Make It Look So Easy") to the ethereal work of Brian Wilson ("The Art") to the over the top rock of Queen (a surprise cover of that band's "Bicycle Race") to the pop/soul of Platt's most obvious vocal and musical influence, Daryl Hall ("Inferno," "Reconnection"). The group even brings along for the ride British soul legend Beverley Knight, who duets with Platts on the bouncy "Only One." But, despite the distorted shadows of past greats on the disc, The Life and Soul is clearly the exclusive product of this hot quintet; it is neither derivative nor an exercise in nostagia. It is quite simply a modern band at its creative peak.
While lovers of 70s music will "get" the overall direction that Mama's Gun takes with its music, The Life and Soul will find a welcoming audience in a new generation often starved for strong songwriting, terrific band dynamics and pure, non-auto-tuned vocals. Mama's Gun delivers on all three and creates a second album that should accelerate the growth of its audience. Routes to Riches was an obvious choice on our 2010 list of the year's best albums, and with The Life and Soul, Mama's Gun has already confirmed its reservation for a spot at the podium for 2011. Highly Recommended.
By Chris Rizik