Album Of The Year: “Ticket To Shangri-La” by Young Gun Silver Fox
Actually, it’s an impossibility: the English-American duo Young Gun Silver Fox manage to go one better after three more than brilliant albums on “Ticket To Shangri-La” and once again, to quote the “Silver Fox” Shawn Lee, release their best album to date.
Everything on this album sounds even more refined, even more sophisticated and even more exquisite than on the predecessors. The team of Andy Platts and Shawn Lee seems to have been literally forged in West Coast AOR heaven. No other band currently manages to combine influences from R&B, soul, Californian-influenced singer-songwriter pop and soft rock so playfully and to implement them at the highest musical level. If you wanted to describe the resulting songs with just one word, it would probably be “timeless”:
The two musicians go all out right from the start. “Still Got It Goin’ On” with its Jerry Hey-like horn arrangement and a certain Bill Champlin vibe marks the album’s brilliant start and sets its mood. On “Tip Of The Flame” with its echoes of Earth, Wind & Fire and Con Funk Shun, the two play out their funkiness. The lead single “West Side Jet”, YGSF get their pop approach perfectly to the point. They have long been masters of the “chorus to die for”.
YGSF are often associated with the Californian AOR sound of the 70s. But the influences are much broader. “Rolling Back” shows the band at the peak of their skills. They cross influences from 80s pop like Prefab Sprout with the refined ease of West Coast heroes like Pages.
The atmospheric “Sierra Nights”, reminiscent of the acoustic West Coast sound of bands like America, shows the duo from a completely different side. The song is definitely one of the highlights of the new album.
“Shangri-La” is a synonym for paradise, for an ideal retreat from the world. With their fourth album, Young Gun Silver Fox create just such a retreat for their listeners and allow us a sonic time-out from everyday life and current crises.
READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH YOUNG GUN SILVER FOX
Albums of the Year: Ranks 2 to 10
“Sentimental Fool” by Lee Fields
It has taken over 20 years, but now the legendary American soul singer Lee Fields has finally released his first album on the New York label Daptone Records. With the support of label founder Gabriel Roth and the best musicians Daptone has to offer, the 72-year-old singer explores the essence of pure, true emotion on “Sentimental Fool” and impressively demonstrates his skills. In doing so, Fields draws from the entire range of classic soul music – from driving soul stompers like “Without A Heart”, where he lives up to his nickname “Little JB”, to profound Southern soul tracks like the opener “Forever”, which recalls the heyday of labels like Goldwax and Stax, to stunning soul ballads. Maybe it’s his advanced age that gives these songs more gravity and meaning, but soul music doesn’t get much deeper than this album.
READ THE FULL REVIEW
“Hidden Gem” by The Zenmenn And John Moods
For their second album “Hidden Gem”, the German band The Zenmenn teamed up with singer-songwriter John Moods to fuse sun-drenched, laid-back yacht rock harmonies with atmospheric ambient landscapes into a kind of cosmic West Coast AOR. The dreamily grooving opener “Out Of My Mind”, underpinned with slide guitars, sets the mood for the following 43 minutes. A song that would also have cut a good figure on a Carly Simon album at the end of the 70s. The second track “Into The Heart Of The Matter” seduces with a bubbling, jazzy R&B bassline and glittering guitar spots for midnight slow dancing. With “The Invisible Landscape”, the band delves into atmospheric ambient and new age realms, with a gentle groove running through it like a river through the rainforest. “Fantasy Again” returns to the organic West Coast shores, but expands the sound with folky guitar elements and gently wafting synthesizers, sometimes reminiscent of the late Jimmie Spheeris recordings, not least through the ethereal vocals of John Moods. The gently nostalgic ballads “Ordinary Time” and “Everytime” close this great album and carry the listener off into the sunset.
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“Cure The Jones” by Mamas Gun
After the turbulence of the last two years, Mamas Gun finally released their fifth studio album “Cure The Jones” this year. The result is a lush, nuanced and expansive contemporary meditation on a world turned upside down, embedded in the classic soul tradition of the 70s. On this album, band founder Andy Platts and his fellows refine the opulent soul sound that could already be heard on the previous album “Golden Days”. Everything sounds just a touch more elegant and polished here. The great “Looking For Moses” is a bow to the late great Bill Withers. “Party For One”, one of the highlights of the album, is reminiscent of the symphonic velvety soul of Isaac Hayes. And the grandiose “When You Stole The Sun From The Sky” captivates with its perfect interplay of melody and lyrics. Mamas Gun continue to go their way, not least through Andy Platts’ eternal search for the perfect song and the one immortal melody. A journey on which we gladly continue to accompany one of the best British soul outfits.
“Back On The Music!” by Paul Cherry
On “Back On The Music!”, American indie artist Paul Cherry lives out his love of smooth grooves, jazzy arrangements and dreamy melodies deeply rooted in the tradition of Steely Dan, Michael Franks and the pop sensibility of Prefab Sprout. In the fun-loving tracks that make up his second album, Cherry staggers and stumbles back into love with his life and his art.
“Nathan Johnston & The Angels Of Libra” by Nathan Johnston & The Angels Of Libra
For their first studio album, the Hamburg soul outfit Angels of Libra teamed up with the Irish singer-songwriter Nathan Johnston, after they had already attracted attention with singles with Shawn Lee and Maiiah. The result is an authentic album full of elegantly grooving, varied and atmospheric soul music, characterised by tasteful horn arrangements, a great rhythm section and the right amount of analogue warmth, but not least by Nathan Johnston’s striking voice – one of our soul albums of the year.
READ THE FULL REVIEW
“Get On The Otherside” by Bobby Oroza
On his second album “Get On The Otherside” Finnish soul singer Bobby Oroza succeeds in transcending the personal existential crises of the past COVID years into forward-looking, positive messages, which he packs into marvellous analogue, atmospheric soul deeply rooted in the 70s. With this record, Oroza releases one of the most beautiful soul albums of the year with a clear message that never gets old: all you really need is love.
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“Ali” by Vieux Farka Touré & Khruangbin
Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who died in 2006, was one of the most influential and talented guitarists Africa has ever produced. To celebrate and reinterpret his father’s music, singer-guitarist Vieux Farka Touré teamed up with the Texas trio Khruangbin to record the tribute “Ali”. The result is an album whose improvisational approach makes it one of the most exciting releases of the year and catapults the music of the “King of the Desert Blues” into the 21st century.
“Rides Yet Again” by Shawn Lee
When Shawn Lee released his very personal country-soul solo album “Rides Again” in 2019, it was to remain a one-off. In the middle of the tour for the album, the pandemic broke out and life came to a standstill. The consequences of the standstill, personal strokes of fate and experiences inspired the singer, songwriter, musician, producer and arranger, who was born in the USA and lives in London, to write a sequel under the title “Rides Yet Again”. On this album, Lee expands his country-soul approach of the predecessor with atmospheric string arrangements and horn sections and also the one or other Brazilian element, thus giving the music a new cinematic quality that adds even more depth to the personal stories and experiences he processes in the songs. “Rides Again” is one of the most moving albums of the year. We would follow Shawn Lee on a ride through his life a third time as well.
READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH SHAWN LEE
“Riding The Wave” by MILES
Behind MILES stands the London-based session guitarist, singer and songwriter Adam ‘Miles’ Amer. Written and recorded in the UK over two years, “Riding the Wave” is a love letter to the golden era of analogue soft rock and West Coast music of the 70s and early 80s. With soaring harmonies, super-tight horns, smooth chord changes and searing guitar solos, Miles called on the best players in town to create an album that sounds like it was recorded in 1980. “Riding The Wave” was one of the first album highlights of the year that will delight all fans of classic West Coast music.
Compilation of the Year
“Too Slow To Disco 4” by Too Slow To Disco
After gentle detours into soul covers, French neo-disco, modern sunset disco and Brazilian AOR, DJ Supermarket’s Too Slow To Disco series joyfully returns to its original West Coast AOR and yacht roots this year with its tenth edition, presenting 16 forgotten and overlooked gems from the mid-70s to the early 80s from a global world of slick, brilliant, lost and overproduced tracks from Finland to London to L. A. and Trinidad and beyond. Included are artists revered in the scene such as The Dukes, Marc Jordan, Jimmie Spheeris and The Faragher Brothers – to name but a few. The current volume shows why Berlin’s Marcus Liesenfeld aka DJ Supermarkt is considered the “Indiana Jones” of lost yacht pop and West Coast AOR gems: He not only persistently chases after the rare songs, but also uncovers the stories and fates of the artists behind the songs, who have had many an amazing career. We hope for many more editions.
READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH MARCUS LIESENFELD (DJ SUPERMARKT)
WEST COAST SOUL.de Albums of the Year Spotify Playlist
If you want to not only read about our albums of the year, but also discover a selection of the best songs from these releases, you can now listen to the “West Coast Soul.de – Albums of the Year 2022” Spotify playlist – our soundtrack for the end of the year.