Shawn Lee is a multi-instrumentalist from Kansas. He has also released work as Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra. 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.
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 songwriting. 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 recognized Shawn's talent.
In 1995, Shawn 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....