Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Shawn Lee Presents Soul in the Hole
(#1, 2009)

Somewhat anticlimactic, those videos I made have been sidelined by Warner Music's dispute with YouTube. And they were good ones!! Anyway, you can listen to samples of each song (and buy the album) at the label.

[Edit: Okay, I'm going to try out this Lala thing...]

I think some history is in order. Shawn Lee is a white Kansan, who has moved to England. He's sort of electronics, some sort of multi-instrumentalist, in a variety of styles. He's done soundtrack work for movies and video games, and his songs seem to get picked up for tv shows pretty regularly. And this year, Shawn Lee Presents Soul in the Hole. He's the guy in the tiger mask.

"A Phase Shifter I'm Going Through" from Lord Newborn & The Magic Skulls (2009), by the band of that name [Shawn Lee, Money Mark, Tommy Guerrero]

As the title might suggest, it's a soul album. Not "neo-soul," full-force retro-traditional soul. Apparently, it's a beloved music style for him, and he treats it right. Mostly inspired by the late-'60s, early-'70s heyday, but occasionally drifting into '80s (pre-slick) new-jack drum-machine beats. Title track, "Soul in the Hole" is a rousing anthem with a poppin' bassline and swingin' drums. Throughout the album, the sublime (vocals) is mixed with the ridiculous (lyrics), as expectations are upended while traditions are honored. Falsetto choruses croon "You exploo-o-ode my mind!"

"If This Ain't Love (Don't Know What Is)" by Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators

Almost all of the tracks have guest singers, with Nicole Willis doing a great job on the organ-and-handclap break-up of "Jigsaw." The song absolutely nails the mixture of pep and heartbreak that made a million girl-group hits in the '60s. "Land of Soul" finishes the opening trifecta, with Lee belting out about sunny Cali-as-promised land over strings and th' funky drummer.

"Ain't No Use" [live], by Orgone with Fanny Franklin

Then a couple of slow jams with the ladies singing. Fanny Franklin sells the two-timed-too-many-times resignation on "Too Tired to Sleep." And Karime Kendra sings on a respectful update of Al Green's "Something." With scratchy needle sounds and all!

"Freak" by the Killer Meters [feat. Karime Kendra]

"Whatever Side You're On" begins the drum-machine, and it's got a great falsetto lead vocal from Paul Butler. It's about love and commitment and feelin' right, and it's got a swelling groove that leads to the straight to the bounce. Fanny Franklin returns to explain the facts to her unappreciative man. The lilting not-quite-reggae skank stops and starts, while Fanny struts righteous. You will appreciate!!

"Didn't I" by Darondo

The next two songs feature vocals by '70s soul obscurity Darondo, and he is truly awesome. "Stay Away From Me" starts with Darondo hailing a cab to escape his mistreating woman. Funky. "Playboy Bunny" tells the tale that must be told, that eternal story of the naked magazine model stolen all your money, spending it on international high-life vacations. Of course. Darondo manages to be wry, deflated, angry, and amused by the whole scenario - which is all you could hope for. Karime returns for a break-up kiss-off, with bottom-end funk and sass: "Your friends are loud and brash, yeah they rude, I ain't gon' try to pretend."

"Kiss the Sky" by Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra

The music's great throughout, staying in the Soul wheelhouse but moving around the territory. The vocals stand out, but arrangements really shine on repeated listens, lots of great playing and surprises in there. If only my awesome videos could show you the way... O well.

"Kill Somebody" by Shawn Lee [old-skool, 2000]

Shawn Lee's also collaborated on a couple of albums with mystery enigma Clutchy Hopkins, who is rumored to be lots of different people (including Shawn Lee). Here's the 2009 one, Fascinating Fingers. More recently relevant is A Very Ping Pong Christmas: Funky Treats from Santa's Bag (2007). The Ping Pong Orchestra also did a cover album of contemporary hits in odd styles, like Outkast's "Hey Ya" as a rowdy-salloon barrelhouse romp. Then there's Lord Newborn & The Magic Skulls [first video above], a collaboration between Shawn Lee, Money Mark (former Beastie Boys keyboardist), and Tommy Guerrero (former hotshot skater). I gotta check some of these out!

Soul in the Hole
No~Videos~At~All from Soul in the Hole (2009)

Official -
Myspace -
Purchase - Ubiquity Records
iTunes - Shawn Lee

Genre - Soul
Location - London, U.K.
Review - Pop Matters

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