The Upshot: Everything old becomes new again with the dynamic partnership of ‘Young Gun’ Andy Platt and ‘Silver Fox’ Shawn Lee. What might, at first, seem an odd couple becomes an introduction to the Great Escape – breathing fresh life into the soft rock elements of the 70s and 80s that don’t suck. You may not come back.
BY ERIC THOM
I’m not much for terms attempting to categorize musical sounds to fit into tidy categories. Why? A case-in-point would be limiting this dynamic release by filing it under the term Yacht Rock – an incredibly broad term marrying the “soft rock” of the ‘70s and ‘80s to a tendency towards smooth production quality, clean vocals and light, pop melodies. All I know is that this delicious release does wax nostalgic – taking me back to the summer nights where Hall & Oates, Todd Rundgren, Ambrosia and Steely Dan were on everyone’s record players (as opposed to playlists).
Granted, AM Waves is somewhat of a guilty pleasure – its candy-sweet production, tight hooks and lofty harmonies at times skirt with elements of ‘70s disco, too. But again – who cares? It’s great music, albeit slightly revisited. The brainchild of UK-based Andy “Young Gun” Platt (Mama’s Gun) and ex-LA/now UK-based Shawn “Silver Fox” Lee (Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra) took a decade to germinate, the talented twosome tossing around each other’s strengths to arrive at a well-thought-out final product. The well-travelled Platt is an exceptionally experienced lead singer, songwriter and producer, knee-deep in R&B, funk and blue-eyed soul circles. The equally worldly Lee is a master multi-instrumentalist who has released upwards of 33 records, covering categories ranging from soundtracks to electronica, often playing everything himself.
Produced within an inch of its life, AM Waves is the band’s sophomore release – West End Coast having been released in 2016. Same recipe but a larger push behind it, AM Waves announces itself with the instantaneous ear-worm delight of “Midnight In Richmond”. Close your eyes and you can all but feel the ocean breeze and warm California sun, the palm fronds clacking behind you as you take a sunset cruise – top-down in your convertible Mustang – along the gently-winding Pacific Coast Highway. Granted, Richmond is in Virginia, but you get the drift. What may seem deceptively simple to do is actually the result of complex arrangements and an expert approach yielding ten perfect pop classics – as concise as they are uplifting – offering the perfect escape to a time when life was definitely less complicated.
Platt and Lee play the bulk of the instruments – drums, bass, guitar, electric piano, synths and an orchestrator – yet the final songs resemble the finely-crafted studio sessions that came with the territory. Nothing sounds canned – far from it. The chemistry between the two is far greater than their respective contributions. Jokingly referred to as “the best album Hall & Oates never made”, look no further than “Lenny” – Platt’s voice and the duo’s harmonies are primetime Darryl Hall and John Oates all over again. “Take It Or Leave It” is a pure gem that, as Platt, himself, notes “it’s like you’ve created a record that already existed” – an observation that applies to this entire album. Its charm lies in its warm familiarity. Where Michael McDonald meets the Sanford-Townsend band, “Take It Or Leave It” positively soars with feel-good sensations, the dynamic duo adding their own backup vocals to stunning effect. The soulful “Underdog” adds The (5-piece) Seaweed Horns and some added funk is enough to take you back to Dick Clark’s ‘American Bandstand’ – all dancefloor frenzy and adolescent unrest. Perfect. The predominant bassline and synth in “Mojo Rising” might recall Ace’s “How Long”, yet the comparison pales as Platt and Lee create a high-sailing vocal ballet that bears repeating over and over again. Talk about your pick-me-up. The comparably melancholic “Just a Man” streams the sublime blend of their vocals in praise of a seemingly untouchable seductress who leaves “footprints on the water” and, apparently, a sea of broken hearts in her wake. “Love Guarantee” heads uptown where, with the support of the Seaweed Horns, the Average White Band isn’t far behind. “Caroline” laments the loss of a much-missed English pirate radio station, scuttled in the ‘70s, the song birthing the album’s title. Not shy about musical history, “Kingston Boogie” embraces a bit more of a disco beat than might be palatable, yet the buoyant, horn-laced, clap-backed track accurately conjures images of Travolta doing the splits as the congas dictate the pulse for any Saturday Night Fever outbreak. “Lolita”, the duo’s first co-write appeared, originally, on West End Coast, yet is revisited here. Colored with additional disco elements, including a George Benson single string strum and an Ernie Isley-esque guitar solo, “Lolita” sports another infectious chorus, yet is not the strongest track to leave the listener with, feeling like we’ve just been had by a Bee Gee, compared with the powerful build-up to the last two compositions.
All in all, Platt and Lee leave us with the reassurance that everything old can be new again and, for that matter, can be improved in the bargain. You just can’t get enough of this stuff.