Need a contender for one of 2010's most essential albums? Start here.
Why should the UK and Japan have all of the fun? That's what I wondered after first experiencing Routes to Riches, the debut album by five-piece, funk-rock band Mamas Gun (yes, the group's name is derived from the Erykah Badu album of the same name). Released in late 2009, Routes to Riches furnished the livelier sounds of early 2010 for Japanese and British audiences (and stateside listeners who ponied up the cash to acquire a pricey import copy). The demand for more Mama was so great that a deluxe edition followed only months later in March. One listen through Routes to Riches and there is no denying the band's appeal.
Fronted by Andy Platts, Mamas Gun has an arsenal of hooks that neatly pack the four to five minutes of a given song. Rex Horan's buoyant bass line on "Rico", the funky drum maneuvering of Jack Pollitt on "Finger on It", the rock riffs sounded by guitarist Terry Lewis on "Psycho Territory", and the kaleidoscopic keyboard work of Dave Burnell Oliver on "Pots of Gold" exemplify how integral each band member is to the fold.
Platts gives the group its primary identity (that's him on the album cover), infusing each song with a voice that's a welcome antidote to the Auto-Tuned landscape of pop singers. In fact, he gives what is arguably the best male vocal performance of 2010 on "Let's Find a Way". Without missing a beat, he reigns his voice in when expressing the nuance of a word and then lets it soar skyward for dramatic effect. He deftly steers the chord change at the bridge before strings greet his return to the final verse. It demands repeat listening.
For all of its considerable merits, "Let's Find a Way" is by no means the only highlight of the album. The roller-disco orientation of "Supa Sneakers", the live rendition of "Yes We Can Can" by The Pointer Sisters, and the Laurel Canyon by way of Hitsville USA quality of "House on a Hill" underscore the band's strength in a number of different musical environments. Need a contender for one of 2010's most essential albums? Start here.