The assimilation of funk and disco found in much R&B of the early 1980s still holds up today because of its purity and finesse. Producers such as Kashif, Leon Sylvers III, and Nile Rodgers expertly blended the high-energy elements of dance floor grooves with rhythmically melodic soul arrangements—resulting in blissful moments of music showing equal consideration for club-goers and casual listeners. With a marked respect for that profound approach, multi-instrumentalists/songwriters/producers Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One have crafted an admirably smooth, irresistibly spry 12-track collection of jams under the moniker Tuxedo.
On the self-titled Tuxedo, Hawthorne and One succeed in establishing a steady and kinetically flowing sequence of tunes that not only entices with funky bottoms, but also via well envisaged melodies and riffs that seep quite readily into the system. In accordance with the work of their luminaries, the vocals and underlying song structure are just as important as the sheen of the grooves. Hawthorne’s supple tenor is innately stylish—and not overly stylized. This quality is quite engaging atop the percolating synth work and keyboard layerings, whether it be on the Zapp-influenced “So Good” or the sprightly, Chic-esque “The Right Time.”
While each number on Tuxedo bears noteworthy qualities, there are definite highlights. The festive yet cool “Watch the Dance” builds with an assertive and catchy refrain backed by a bootylicious bass line and dirty-funky guitar licks running alongside slick male and female harmonies, while Hawthorne delves into several vocal shades conveying both playfulness and charisma. The lead single, “Do It,” captures the essence of the band with feel-good lyrics tightly enveloped in a punchy hook and a steadfast rhythm arrangement that challenges any able-bodied listener not to start shaking their bones instantaneously. Here, Hawthorne layers a falsetto line with the chest tones—both registers finely interweaving with Swish’s synth swirls fading in and out and an almost mystical guitar solo by Christian Wunderlich. Meanwhile, the opening “Lost Lover” (notably enhanced by female backing vocalist Gavin Turek) charms with an atmospheric melding of string and synth bass sounds that give both the verses and chorus an anthemic feel.
While the pace is primarily kept at a finger-snappin’ level, Tuxedo indulges in a couple of moments of slow-jam boogie that still keep the vibe funky and sexy. “Two Wrongs” has a demo-like essence that effortlessly complements the story line of fooling around on the side and trying to avoid the side effects. Meanwhile, “Get U Home” caresses with Quincy McCrary’s electric and acoustic piano work and Will Sessions’ distinguished horn touches grooving alluringly with Hawthorne’s softly urgent singing.
Tuxedo, in full,is an impressively sophisticated batch of groovilicious tunes packing both melodic spark and structural oomph. The only weak link in a few cuts comes in the lyrical department, which sometimes borders on formulaic. Despite those momentary inconveniences, the album stands as a fine example of authentic musicality during an era where most dance-based music is drenched in excessive noise and harshly artificial production. By contrast, Tuxedo makes its statements with a cool balance of understated attitude and intrinsically soulful delivery that bespeaks funkiness from beginning to end. Recommended.
by Justin Kantor
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