Andy Platts and his consortium of A-grade, retro-lovin’ musicians, Mamas Gun, are back with The Life and Soul; their follow up to 2009’s light and breezy Routes To Riches.
Mamas Gun have always tied their nostalgic colours unapologetically to the mast. If their second outing is anything to go by they’re not about to start trying too hard to be down with the kids and their fickle tastes. Nevertheless although the serious quality of their songwriting and musicianship is not in doubt, they’re not the humourless purists you’d expect, as evidenced in the promo for lead single ‘On A String’.
Enlisting the help of Grammy-award winning production duo Andreas Olsson and Martin Terefe, Mamas Gun are a lot more committed on their sophomore project to exploring the various rock permutations –progressive et al- with which they had dalliance on Routes To Riches; from the growling intro of album opener ‘Reconnection’ to the very convincing reprisal of Queen’s ‘Bicycle Race’ (a cover so like the original that it serves little additional purpose than to show-off Platts’ undeniably decent Freddie Mercury impersonation).
Still, MG hasn’t completely abandoned the cheerful eclecticism for which they have come to be known. As with Routes… it’s The Life and Soul’s deftly-crafted soul and funk numbers – most of which also have a rock bias-that stand out the most. The title track has the instant crowd-pleasing appeal typical of Mamas Gun.
‘We make it look so easy’ is the album’s sole concession to the Marvin-esque ’70s funk baby-maker. Resistance to the groovy syncopated hand claps and steel-pan effect guitar on ‘Inferno’ is futile. As ever, Rex Horan’s bass is often the unofficial star adding a little something extra to the classy ‘On a String’ and ‘Heavy Hands,’ which has a smuttiness to its rhythm that makes a girl want to don top hat and tails and start doing high kicks.
Yet The Life and Soul is not the non-stop sing-a-long parade that defined Routes to Riches. Its most memorable tracks are concentrated in the first half. ‘Only One’, a duet with British soul veteran Beverley Knight, is surprisingly underwhelming. The album’s strong start just about makes up for it being a bit of a struggle to get excited past the half-way point.
The Life and Soul is, if not altogether a darker offering from Platts’ gang, then at least a little more rueful. The catchy hooks, celestial harmonies and pop/rock sensibility remain but in muted colours, much like the album’s artwork. There’s even a slightly more mature lyrical approach. If Routes to Riches was spring, then this is distinctly autumnal. However, just like the reds and golds of the fallen leaves and nectarine-hued early evening sunsets lend that season a beauty of its own, The Life and Soul has an occasional charm that gently works its way into the affections.