Mayer Hawthorne - How Do You Do

Mayer Hawthorne
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Those who painted a ghastly impression of Motown lovechild Mayer Hawthrone after his self-produced breakout indie disc, A Strange Arrangement, need to prepare for what’s next. The vinyl carnivore is now a credible fledgling in the mainstream stratosphere with years of exhaustive old-school research and homework to thank for his flight. Throughout his previous releases, Hawthorne studiously mimicked the grandeur of Curtis Mayfield and Holland-Dozier-Holland soul, Marvin Gaye’s use of suspense and Thom Bell production cinematics. Hawthorne’s all-too-apparent geekdom was made hip by the sly blending of the musician’s considerable hip-hop DJing experience, allowing him to transpose that unquantifiable “cool” into the sound of his crate digging traditionalism. These unique benefits led him to win praise from devout music critics, a well-executed U.S.

Those who painted a ghastly impression of Motown lovechild Mayer Hawthrone after his self-produced breakout indie disc, A Strange Arrangement, need to prepare for what’s next. The vinyl carnivore is now a credible fledgling in the mainstream stratosphere with years of exhaustive old-school research and homework to thank for his flight. Throughout his previous releases, Hawthorne studiously mimicked the grandeur of Curtis Mayfield and Holland-Dozier-Holland soul, Marvin Gaye’s use of suspense and Thom Bell production cinematics. Hawthorne’s all-too-apparent geekdom was made hip by the sly blending of the musician’s considerable hip-hop DJing experience, allowing him to transpose that unquantifiable “cool” into the sound of his crate digging traditionalism. These unique benefits led him to win praise from devout music critics, a well-executed U.S. tour sponsored by SPIN, a spot on Daryl Hall’s web series and some musical airtime on hit TV sitcoms in need of cute nostalgic jingles. The modern era’s saturation from old-school-admiring household names helped spice up the airwaves with retro-soul (there’s too many to name, but we can safely mention a few, including: Duffy, John Legend, Cee Lo Green, Raphael Saadiq and Amy Winehouse, among others), benefiting Hawthorne’s timely entry. But, with the golden-era retro trend fading, what’s a Hawthorne to do?

Largely staying the course, Hawthorne (not to be confused with the cancelled TBS TV show) returns with his second title, How Do You Do, with some bragging rights and a few new tricks. He hasn’t abandoned the feel-good ‘60s and ‘70s styles that helped defined him, but this time he boasts major label distribution (Universal Republic), tighter instrumentation and more hip in his hop (a singing Snoop Dogg – sounding better than preconceived expectations – duets with Hawthorne on a string-laden, sample-ready “Can’t Stop”). Even though some of the simple commercial pop of his debut seems to have been replaced with an earthy R&B readiness, somehow the songs feel more relaxed and better manipulated.

Certainly “The Walk,” a cutesy love-and-hate take on a fling gone wrong, is the album’s spotlight. The double-mindedness attached to a Hitsville melody, proves to be the song’s winning card. In one sentence, Mayer’s walking on cloud nine (“From the moment that I meet ya/I thought you were fine…”) and then abruptly switches into Cee Lo gear (“But your shitty fu**ing attitude has got me changing my mind”), creating a compelling juxtaposition of bitter to his usual sweet.

Other treats abound. “Get To Know You” puts Hawthorne in the mood for a classic Isaac Hayes/Barry White rap. “Finally Falling” and “A Long Time” dips its fingers in Doobie soul. “Dreaming” traces elements of the British Invasion, while “Hooked” marinates in Memphis horns. The ‘60s prom teaser “You’re Not Ready” sounds like a snarky, yet clever response to Barbara Mason’s “I’m Ready.” Closing the album, Hawthorne takes “No Strings,” one of his early downloadable treats and brushes it up with thicker percussion and a heavier, rubbery bass.

As a pleasant surprise, Hawthorne’s pipes, sneered with an occasional quasi-falsetto, sounds a bit more refined, polished and confident. Maybe Daryl Hall showed him a few vocal pointers. Welcomingly, it’s enough to find the young old soul percolating ahead of some of his fellow blue-eyed soul peers and more than enough to be called progress. He still isn’t a marketable force to be reckoned with, nor does he have the voice yet to turn nostalgia on How Do You Do into timeless hits, but he’s doing a damn good job in pumping more steam in the retro-R&B machine. Recommended.

By J Matthew Cobb

 
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