Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Band

I was listening to The Incredible Shrinking Man - Peculiar Times and having always had a love for it I never really knew who was behind it until today and low and behold it is none other than Shawn Lee who some of you may know from Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra on Ubiquity or his Discomfort album that came out on the sadly defunct Talkin' Loud imprint.

What really gets me about Peculiar Times are the strings and the arrangement which all combined make for an honest, sombre yet funky recount of his life and his experiences. I have no idea if he's singing it or not as the record sleeve isn't exactly the most revealing, that and it's a b-side to the frankly bizarre Wichita Lineman. It's always been one of those records that I pull out when I don't feel like bashing it out a bit and it strangely always has a calming effect on me. I've ended quite a few nights with it and, to be honest, it's not really the final fist-pumping swan song that people expect but it does work and people in England seemed to know the words, too. Although to be fair when I say 'people' I actually meant the last pissed straggler in Dry Bar on a cold empty night in January 2007, still it made my night.

Download it here.

I think Shawn's various bios tell his story best. (That and I can't find any interviews/articles on him)

Talent will out, they say, but sometimes the exit route is a long and winding road. For Shawn Lee, the journey began in Wichita, Kansas.

Shawn grew up in a rural area on the outskirts of the city. His mother is half Lebanese, half American Indian, his father Irish-American. While his peers got off on cheesy corporate rock and the kind of line-dancing tunes recently fashionable in Gap ads, Shawn was groovin' to the blaxploitation funk Sly and the Isleys. Later, his local Baptist Church widened his appreciation of black music, but when he sang in its gospel choir, he discovered some of his white 'friends' were racists who disapproved. "Fuck this," he thought. "I'm leaving the Mid-West" It was 1988.

Next stop Los Angeles. Already an able multi-instrumentalist (guitar,drums,bass,etc) Shawn now set about developing his song-writing. There were bands, publishing deals, relationships and day jobs: more notches on the bedpost of experience. This period also saw Shawn befriend the late Jeff Buckley, and somebody, somewhere has a tape of them jamming "Honky Tonk Woman" Be sure that Buckley would have recognised Sean's talent.

In 1995, Sean moved to London, where he recorded his solo debut. For all the wrong reasons, the album was never released. It was soul destroying; a bit like somebody erasing 3 years of your life." Resolving to write and record on his own terms, Shawn kept working. He passed CD's of songs to friends with no agenda other than "hope you enjoy it"As Shawn continued to do it his way,air play garnered by a self-financed EP prompted several major labels to phone him. He had no intention of re-boarding the corporate merry-go-round, though. Instead, he opted to sign a deal with Mark Jones at Wall of Sound. "The label's got real credibility," he says "and Mark was happy to put out a record which sounds exactly like I wanted it to." Subsequently Shawn became the flagship artist for the new Wall of Sound imprint, We Love You....

Which brings us to Monkey Boy, an inspired and beautifully crafted album which warrants your undivided attention. Like the best work by The Isley Brothers , it takes rock, soul, funk and folk textures, then fuses them with unquestionable panache. For afters, there's deft scratching, sumptuous bossa-nova and a dark waltz which evokes Burt Bacharach on downers. What's New pussycat? This is.

The bossa track is 'Happiness', all itch-scratching Latin percussion a la Sergio Mendez. Had Arthur Lee's Love formed in Rio rather than Los Angeles, they might have sounded like this. Further in, A&R Man of Love" (yes, the title's ironic) was inspired by Vincent Gallo's fabulous soundtrack for Buffalo 66. You'll be pleased to know that as much as Shawn admires Gallo's many talents, he doesn't share his arrogance.

Shawn's album was self-produced, and although friends dropped by to add strings, double bass, brass and woodwind, Shawn's skills as a multi-instrumentalist hold court. You'll notice, too, that his voice is a marvel throughout; check out "Harmony In Falsetto" (a self-explanatory ballad), or his sweet-honey-in-the-rock delivery on "Floating" Class.
If Ian Brown is the king of the swingers, I'm a baboon's arse and Britney's Nina Simone..

It's time to swap bravado and pap for soul and a solid gold talent. Shawn Lee, aka Monkey Boy, is top banana...

- From his website.

Taking inspiration from classic library records produced by companies like Music de Wolfe and KPM, Ubiquity presents the first in it's series of Studio Sessions albums. Volume one features 25 mood setting tracks that work great as an album to listen too, as a DJ tool, a production tool for sampling, or music for beds in advertising or film.

Library records were often recorded by top session musicians and featured tracks capturing a variety of moods - from the frantic bongo-driven chase scene to the string-laden back-drop for a tender love scene - the music featured was aimed largely at TV, film and radio producers. Many of these obscure records are highly collectible for the single one or two tracks that the best LPs featured - often times selling for hundreds of dollars for an amazing breakbeat or a great funk track. The Ubiquity Studio Sessions will include all killer, no-filler tunes for the DJ, funk connoisseur, film, TV, ad or radio music supervisor. There are plenty of breaks and beats, loops galore, and mood setting tunes from the bass line driven suspense of "Friday The 13th" to the hard hitting adrenaline rush of "Bongo Fury". Each tune a perfectly formed short-but-sweet vibe catching moment in it's own right.

"Music And Rhythm" is produced by Shawn Lee who will be known to breaks n'beats collectors as the man behind "The Ape Breaks" and "Planet of the Breaks" series which were sampled by everyone from Guru to The Gorillaz. As a multi-instrumentalist and singer he has played and recorded with a diverse range of artists including Coldcut, Leeann Rhimes, Martina Mcbride, UNKLE, Tony Joe White, Chateau flight, The Dust Brothers, St. Etienne, Jeff Buckley, Bomb the Bass, The Spice Girls, and Natasha Atlas not to mention solo records for Talkin Loud and Wall of Sound imprint We Love You. His new album "Soul Visa" is out in Japan.

- Taken from Ubiquity's website.

Clearly he's a man with a lot of personality and his output at times can be as brash and confident as he quite clearly is. His records have a charm and quirkiness that makes them stand out from the rest when you're buying records. They might not exactly be dance floor fillers but they certainly have a place early doors or at places like Aficionado where a record like 'Kiss The Sky' would go down a charm during those first few 'just one more pint and then i'm off' moments and granted his records aren't for everybody but they certainly do hold pride of place in place in my collection...and I can't ask for much more than that.

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