If one record appropriately heralds the long-awaited advent of Spring it’s Routes To Riches (Deluxe Edition), the feel-good debut by UK outfit Mama’s Gun.  Still, it’s not hard to envision the album ruffling some feathers if it gets the recognition it deserves – their style of funk with an unabashed pop-edge is bound to spark some debate amongst listeners, the likely crux of which being whether their sound is ‘watered down’ and gazing too longingly at commercial success. Heck, the album title hardly refutes this assumption.  But as mainstream soul acts such as The Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai and Incognito proved in the 1990s, ain’t nothing wrong with a bit of pop-fusion if you know what you are doing… and Mama’s Gun prove that they do.

It is a bit unfair to so readily label the band in such binary fashion.  It is clear their musical influences are drawn from far and wide and they are not afraid to show it.  Led by the respectably elastic tenor of vocalist and chief songwriter Andy Platts, on occasion (‘Finger On It’) Mama’s Gun indeed sound like Jay Kay if he had bypassed his ‘Emergency…/Space Cowboy’ days and got things going immediately with ‘Travelling Without Moving’.

Other times the band’s guitar and drums are driven with the rhythmic urgency of Stax funk (‘Big Betty’, ‘Miracle’ ‘Supa Sneakers’).  Some of their horn and string arrangements share the same ambition and grandeur of Philly soul (as on ‘You Are The Music’ and the gorgeous, ‘Wishing’ and equally good ‘Let’s Find A Way’) – which is by no means unwelcome.

Delightful harmonies litter Routes… sometimes unequivocally Barbershop, the poignant splendour of ‘Sketches’ being one example.  On the edible ‘Chasing Down Shadows’ and (so I’m told) addictive-as-crack ‘Rico’ however, the backing vocals are Prog Rock at its best a la Elton John’s ‘Yellow Brick Road’ and ‘Breakfast In America’ by Supertramp. Aspects of album opener, ‘House on The Hill’ bring the Stone Roses ‘Fools Gold’ to mind.  And of course no soul/funk album would be complete without a nod to Prince, Sly and the Family Stone and Stevie Wonder.

So what is the result of this melting pot of inspiration?

Well on paper, they shouldn’t get away with it but in practice Mama’s Gun definitely does; more like paying homage to their favourite artists than a shameless rip-off. Of course, some purists might begrudge Mama Gun’s radio friendly hooks but they shouldn’t; not when they’re done with such flair.  I defy anyone to successfully resist the honky-tonk sassiness of ‘Rico’, with its sly wink of appreciation to Messrs Fagen and Becker for their impact on its attitude as well as content and form.

Lyrically, Routes To Riches suffers its fair share of saccharine moments such as the rot-your-teeth-triteness of the line in ‘You Are The Music’: “I believe you and me are destiny’s child, like the earth and the sun and the miracle of life…”. Yeah… Right.

Mama’s Gun do far better in the lyrics department when they are exploring social ills such as on ‘Psycho Territory’ with its subtle berating of this generation’s pursuit of instant gratification facilitated by technology; at the expense of the soul.  ‘Bitch’ is a tongue-in-cheek expostulation against the distorted perspective of a perennial ingrate.  Even when the lyrics completely surrender to sentimentality the groove is seductive and convincing enough for you not to even care as on ‘Pots Of Gold’ and ‘Never Be Right’.

This review would not be complete without an honourable mention of the unofficial star of Routes to Riches, bassist Rex Horan.  With all due regard to the good quality of the musicians as a whole, several of the album’s highlights are elevated to the next level of groove by his undeniable skill.  On the live rendition of ‘Yes We Can, Can’ – the only cover on Routes… – the crowd ecstatically chant Horan’s nickname ‘The Professor’ as he gets down with his bad self.

Sometimes you just want to shake your derriere with abandon at some unspecified sunny outdoor event (or imagine doing so if the weather doesn’t permit). Routes To Riches is good enough a soundtrack as any to aid the realisation of such humble aspirations, gosh darn it.

–Tola Ositelu

Mama’s Gun Routes To Riches is out now on Candelion.
Purchase link: Amazon [click to buy].

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