UK pop/soul quintet Mamas Gun jumped into our consciousness and our iPods back in 2010 with the brilliant Routes to Riches, an album that showed the quintet to be the rightful heirs to giants of the past, from Hall & Oates to the Bee Gees to The Doobie Brothers, who successfully straddled the line between rock, pop and soul on the strength of great songwriting and classic sensibilities. It’s been three years since the band’s strong follow up album, The Life and Soul, and, though a few morsels (including a covers EP) were tossed to fans in the interim, the legitimate third release by Mama’s Gun has now arrived in the form of the new Cheap Hotel.
With a slightly changed lineup of bass player Cameron Dawson, keyboardist David Oliver, guitarist Terry Lewis and drummer Jack Pollitt supporting singer, songwriter and producer Andy Platts, Mama’s Gun approaches 2014 with many of the same sensibilities that made them a favorite of both the hipster crowd and classic pop fans. While the band doesn’t shy away from its 70s radio influences on Cheap Hotel, once again those disparate sounds are chopped and mixed into a unique blend that is both inviting and, at times irresistible.
The initial earworm from Cheap Hotel is the first single, “Red Cassette.” The track, which tells the story of a man finding a remnant of his musical teenage years, begins with a hand-clapping, old school groove and moves into a wall of falsetto-filled harmonies that create a song-of-the-Summer sound that is tough to resist. It may be the most immediate of the songs on Cheap Hotel, but fortunately it doesn’t stand alone.
Each of the band’s albums has had a killer ballad (Routes to Riches’ “Pots of Gold” is one of this decade’s best), and on Cheap Hotel the winner is “Burn and Fade,” a beautiful song with an R&B underpinning but a layered, folky arrangement on the top. More upbeat, but just as memorable, is “Hello Goodnight,” which opens with Queen-like choral vocals before breaking into a joyous Philly soul groove that makes this the logical choice for a second single. And just a slight step below are several strong cuts, including the spacey “Midas Touch,” a very 70s’ mid-tempo “People On The Run,” and the bouncy dance number, “On and On.”
There have been dozens of artists, from Amy Winehouse to Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, who have paid tribute to 60s R&B in their music, but there are few acts in 2014 whose music recalls the blue-eyed soul of the mid-70s. And there is certainly no act that so effectively combines those classic pop sensibilities with fresh arrangements and killer songwriting as Mamas Gun. The fact that they often add their goofball humor to the songs just makes the band that much easier to like.
It’s been nearly five years since Mamas Gun came onto the scene appearing to be a band that was about to explode. And while their emergence has, in some ways, been a bit slower than expected, they’ve deservedly amassed a growing, rabid fan base for their unique – often humorous – combination of the old and the new. More than that, this is a group that has taken the classic fundamentals of popular music – songwriting, musicianship and great vocals – to a level that few of their peers today have achieved. We will be still listening to songs like “You Are The Music,” “Pots of Gold,” “On A String,” and new additions like “Red Cassette” and Hello Goodnight” a dozen years from now because of these timeless elements. And with Cheap Hotel, Mamas Gun gives a (hopefully) larger international audience a chance to experience the joyful music listening that this talented quintet brings. Highly Recommended.
By Chris Rizik (Soultracks)