Mayer Hawthorne - KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic

Mayer Hawthorne
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Fresh as fabric softener and rollicking as a roller derby, multi-instrumentalist Mayer Hawthorne steps out swinging on this enthralling six song EP. Now there is a string of words I’ve never considered placing in a review of Mayer Hawthorne…ever. Yet, it is undeniable that this race is granted not to the swift but to one artist whose strengthening talent and tireless work ethic endureth ‘til the end. Always a fine musician and songwriter but a marginal singer, a hard-working and tenacious Hawthorne continually emerges from the respectable, if increasingly tiresome druthers of retro-soul to the magnificent and timeless. This carefully selected mix of rock ‘n’ soul and classic rhythm and blues is one that cannot help but win. With a lean tenor made for these highly melodic dollops of musical joy, Mayer Hawthorne delivers.

Fresh as fabric softener and rollicking as a roller derby, multi-instrumentalist Mayer Hawthorne steps out swinging on this enthralling six song EP. Now there is a string of words I’ve never considered placing in a review of Mayer Hawthorne…ever. Yet, it is undeniable that this race is granted not to the swift but to one artist whose strengthening talent and tireless work ethic endureth ‘til the end. Always a fine musician and songwriter but a marginal singer, a hard-working and tenacious Hawthorne continually emerges from the respectable, if increasingly tiresome druthers of retro-soul to the magnificent and timeless. This carefully selected mix of rock ‘n’ soul and classic rhythm and blues is one that cannot help but win. With a lean tenor made for these highly melodic dollops of musical joy, Mayer Hawthorne delivers.

It’s not that Hawthorne’s instrument suddenly sounds like his ‘60s and ‘70s soul idols, with jazz rifts, gospel runs and hard-edged grit and gravel—far from it. But, with classy songs this warm and easy, Hawthorne doesn’t have to sell you the store. His cucumber cool salesmanship is of the soft, sinewy kind, one that eases listeners into buying into melodies worthy of candlelight on his billowy ballads and pulling out their credit card once he gets to swinging hard enough to match any funky horn section around. Hawthorne has found his groove and is inviting you to take his hand for a whirl on his dance floor time machine.

Owning his originals and new classics largely from his 2011 sophomore album How Do You Do and 2009’s A Strange Arrangement, Hawthorne is at hammock rocking ease on these live-recorded tunes. The band is wholly in the pocket, the doo-wop backgrounds sound teleported from Muscle Shoals circa 1965, and the production mix couldn’t be more polished for a live studio recording if it tried. The sequencing helps a great deal here and it is strongly recommended that listeners take it from the top and let Hawthorne steer. Don’t worry; you’re in good hands.

From the Marc Broussard flavored, guitar jam “Love in Motion,” Hawthorne finds himself in a country soul jamboree that wouldn’t have been out of place among Lynyrd Skynyrd’s greatest hits. Not missing a beat, the band slides right from uptempo bar band into a midtempo soul groove, perfect for sultry two stepping and hand dancing. On “No Strings,” Hawthorne is at his falsetto best, crooning about grown-up thangs absent any strings. Where “No Strings” had none, “Dreaming” opens with a lush string arrangement before transitioning into a bubbly soft rock ditty as everyday people as Crosby Stills & Nash, and just as bright. Just as we’re leaving the Filmore West in San Francisco on “Dreaming,” we’re transported to Philadelphia and a ballad the Delfonics would’ve eaten up for lunch during their prime, “Shiny & New.” Afterward, Hawthorne decides to stick around Philly a little while longer, performing his sublime hit “I Wish It Would Rain” from his 2009 debut album A Strange Arrangement.  A stroll through Hawthorne’s Detroit stomping grounds comes through on the classic Motown sounds of “The Walk,” the song Smokey Robinson never penned but could have.

Just as the six song set of Hawthorne’s original productions end, you find yourself wanting an encore, two, three. Several EPs and two albums deep, that’s exactly where you want to be, if you’re Mayer Hawthorne after such a hard fought journey toward respect: leaving them wanting more. Highly Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson


 
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