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Young Gun Silver Fox- Canyons

“I feel like we’re reconnecting people with an era and a way of making and writing music which in today's mainstream has perhaps lost relevance.”

Young Gun Silver Fox comprise Andy Platts and Shawn Lee and their first two albums - West End Coast and AM Waves – have set the benchmark for 21st Century, 1970s-influenced rock music. Platts, of course, is the lead singer and lyricist/composer of Mamas Gun, the London-based five piece funk/soul collective whose four albums to date have received huge critical acclaim in the UK alongside an early single, House On The Hill, becoming the most played song on Japanese radio (in 2009) and their debut album Routes To Riches reaching the No.3 slot in Japan. Prior to Mamas Gun, Platts played on Corinne Bailey Rae’s hugely successful debut album before collaborating with Rod ‘Thriller’ Temperton, John Oates, Jed Leiber and former Gil Scott-Heron sidekick Brian Jackson but it’s safe to assume that Lee – an American musician, producer, award-winning video game composer, and multi-instrumentalist  - is no stranger to success himself: not only has he produced all three YGSF records to date and albums by St Etienne and Princess Superstar amongst others, he has also released ten albums as Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra and  his music has appeared in films such as Ocean’s Thirteen, The Break Up, and Confessions of a Shopaholic, as well as on television series, such as CSI: Miami, Lost, Desperate Housewives, Nip/Tuck, Ugly Betty and Eastbound and Down and Picture This. Perhaps, however, it is our intrepid duo’s individual backgrounds that account for the melting honeypot that is Young Gun Silver Fox: Platts was born in a military hospital in Kowloon, Hong Kong, to a nomadic father who had landed in the Far East as a police recruit in their battles with underground triad organizations and attended countless schools before winning a place at Paul McCartney’s LIPA institute, whilst Lee’s parentage includes a mother of Lebanese and American Indian ancestry and a father of Irish American descent.

Of course, you just know that YSGF would have been hailed as some kind of masterly interventionists back in the day - it’s like punk-never-happened and all that  - and correspondingly, in this age of conformity and compromise, Platts and Lee – two of the UK’s most prolific and versatile pop music linguists  - have found a niche all of their own, creating an authentic collusion/collision of styles that constantly defies boundaries and makes all of us sit up and take note. And on their new record, Canyons, YGSF have created something so beautiful and contemporary  - and yet utterly ensconced in a post 1978, pre-1984 era – that you might find yourselves hugging each other in some kind of blissed-out state of recognition.

“A lot of people today can claim to be ‘multi-instrumentalists’ but Shawn truly is a multi-hat-wearing-cat. Musically, his ear and ridiculous encyclopedic musical brain continues to floor me.”

YGSF’s opening salvo, West End Coast, was something Lee had “wanted to make for some time, he says now, “and Andy was the only person I felt I could make it with. He understands the classic melodic pop side as well as the soul funky side that was absolutely vital to the creation of this music. What a voice!" Recorded and mixed at Lee's Trans-Yank Studio in the West End of London, West End Coast evokes some of the defining SoCal pop-rock classics of the 1970s with songs like You Can Feel It really evoking the vastness of California's Pacific Coast Highway whilst others utilize Philly-inspired soul threads (Distance Between Us), vigorous horn arrangements (So Bad) and even extra-curricular orchestral elements (Long Way Back). Interestingly, reveals Shawn, even though the record evoked the sound and spirit of the ‘70s, “except for the basic rhythm tracks on See Me Slumber' the whole recording process of the album was made remotely over the Internet" "Shawn would send me completely finished instrumental tracks on which he played everything,” continues Andy, “and I, in turn, created the melodies, lyrics, and recorded vocals and backing vocals, maybe the odd keyboard or guitar part."

There’s no doubt that creatively and sonically we come from an almost exclusively American place but there’s a definite British influence which only serves to make it more distinctive.”

If West End Coast was intuitive, then follow up, AM WAVES, recorded in London at The Shop as well as further afield at Roffey Hall in the English countryside, was an instinctive record. Produced by Lee, the album showcased pop, rock and soul and songs such as Midnight in Richmond - "I hit one chord, which I'd never played before, and the song sort of wrote itself," says Shawn – Lenny - inspired by a dream where Lenny Kravitz owned a bar, was polishing glasses and serving Andy hit after hit – Underdog and the slick R’n’B-tinged Love Guarantee - both festooned with a five piece horn section affectionately dubbed the "Seaweed Horns" by Shawn - and Caroline - a song about the offshore pirate radio station of that name that was eventually captured and ended up lending this excellent record its reason to exist. “They played the music that kids wanted to hear, whether it was the old stuff or cutting edge stuff," says Andy, perhaps encapsulating in a sentence the entire ethos that is at the heart of a Young Gun Silver Fox recording.

Young Gun Silver Fox have been compared to America, Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, The Doobie Brothers and even Carly Simon, although Andy suggests that “Hall & Oates really speak to me, as does Michael McDonald as a sheer vocal force and inspiration.” Indeed, AM WAVES was once described as “the best album Hall & Oates never made” (ha!) but you can bet Donald Fagan is a major lyrical influence and “the melodies of Joni Mitchell, the fluency of Elton John and McCartney at his wackiest or shamelessly romantic” all have a special corner in YGSF world. Perhaps, however, it would be true to say that on Canyons – they are, after all, places of rare, magical beauty – they’ve hit the musical jackpot and created a sound uniquely their own.

 “The music we make is a rich and interesting prospect for people looking for something else, or for those seeking nostalgia of an authentic kind.”

Essentially and originally conceived as a themed piece of work, Canyons documents the arc of a relationship – with diversions into semi-autobiography, fantasy and removed observation – although the record’s track listing is non-linear. Kicking off with Kids, a song about living through the lens of a child – or placing yourself in the shoes of a child – that highlights “how much we get it wrong as an adult on a daily basis” the record neatly segues into Who Needs Words which has a Beach Boys vibe, a Steely Dan shuffle and jazz harmonies to boot – although Andy reveals that here he wanted “to explore the long-form melody writing style of Burt Bacharach” on this song. Up next, Baby Girl – the word “baby” is a classic soul vernacular from which to hang the music - has a Prince element to it where the lyric says it all, specifically, you’ll be there for your kids – whilst Dream Woman is a bombastic beast of a tune concerning the last man alive who falls in love and sleeps with a female robot in the face of human extinction. We’ve all done it etc but the song is a collaboration with Nichol Thomson (who wrote some horn arrangements on AM Waves) and has an epic Earth Wind & Fire vibe that can’t be ignored. After this, we have Long Distance Love Affair built around a kalimba piece – an African thumb piano famously employed by Maurice White of Earth Wind and Fire  - which features an incredible horn arrangement by Nichol and the opening line “Touchdown in Tokyo” and its theme of love surviving over a long distance whilst away from loved ones, is writ large.  

"I think there is a profound love and respect for records made at that particular time. There’s a certain richness and sheen in those records which left a really high watermark in record-making.”

Canyons continues with Danny Jamaica which features a really rare instrument called a Hohner Guitaret – sourced by Shawn – which, in effect, is an electric lamellophone that sounds a bit like an electric kalimba. No doubt focusing on Andy’s old weed dealer whom he knew when he lived in Liverpool – “a lovely man with a heart of gold that that made me reassess my opinion of the drug dealer stereotype”  - it’s quickly acceded by Just For Kicks, a bouncy old-school early ‘80s R ‘n’ B tune with a great horn arrangement. It’s out and out hedonism and self-preservation, of course, but Private Paradise (featuring a guitar solo by Andy)  - it’s as if Ry Cooder had been brought up in Hawaii – is more reflective and about finding your very own little corner of the world which you can call your own. Subsequently, pen-ultimately, we have the melancholic, haunting Things We Left Unsaid, Andy and Shawn’s favourite track and the album’s centerpiece if not its coda; “brilliantly conceived by Shawn” – says Andy – it’s full of regret and yearning and spotlights “the pearls of regret we have in the confines of our past.” Perhaps there’s just a hint of hope or redemption – the positive vibes of the YGSF genre prove overwhelming as usual - but it segues delightfully into All This Love – which treads a similar path to another YGSF song, Long Way Back – a gorgeous Stevie Wonder/Todd Rundgren-esque ballad that addresses the question of what happens to your love if you lose the person with whom you have shared your life. It’s sad and foreboding in equal measure but it’s a beautiful way to end this moving, significant record.    © Phill Savidge 2020

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