Mayer Hawthorne - Man About Town (2016)

Mayer Hawthorne
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With each passing album, Mayer Hawthorne takes an artistic turn towards uncanny, reinventing himself in small stages; even down to changing his name from Andrew Mayer Cohen. And like building blocks, each transition has been warmly accepted by the masses. Going from Curtis Mayfield-Philly soul man (A Strange Arrangement) to Michael McDonald tutor (How Do You Do) and then into a Pharrell-anchored hip soul vortex on (Where Does This Door Go) proves that the blue-eyed soul singer is serious about his aspirations to bringing the old school of R&B back in session. On his fourth LP, the ten-track Man About Town, Hawthorne visualizes himself as a prudent soul crooner jumping into yet another lane of creative ambition.

With each passing album, Mayer Hawthorne takes an artistic turn towards uncanny, reinventing himself in small stages; even down to changing his name from Andrew Mayer Cohen. And like building blocks, each transition has been warmly accepted by the masses. Going from Curtis Mayfield-Philly soul man (A Strange Arrangement) to Michael McDonald tutor (How Do You Do) and then into a Pharrell-anchored hip soul vortex on (Where Does This Door Go) proves that the blue-eyed soul singer is serious about his aspirations to bringing the old school of R&B back in session. On his fourth LP, the ten-track Man About Town, Hawthorne visualizes himself as a prudent soul crooner jumping into yet another lane of creative ambition.

Unlike his first two albums, Hawthorne has managed to float toward higher realms of ‘70s soul, causing yet another detour away from Motown and Philly International riffs. He oddly opens the album using a bit of “Bohemian Rhapsody”-meets-Beach Boys baroque pop on the very brief title track, sending shockwaves through yet another genre shift. But, Hawthrone’s loudest music inspirations carry much of the album’s heavy load. Barry White boudoir sex flows through the cracks of “Cosmic Love” while drops of Marvin Gaye sweat fall into “Breakfast in Bed.” Toward the back of the disc, he blends doo-wop and a faux Phillip Bailey-esque falsetto on the slow jam of “Get You Back” while dropping lo-fi production on “Out of Pocket.” He does make a surprising, hasty return to the treasured Michael McDonald soul-pop flavor evidenced on past LPs (“A Long Time,” “Finally Fallin’,” “Reach Out Richard”) on “The Valley.” Bubbly synths and a charming melody gleaming with L.A. yacht rock pride bring out the best in the song, easily making it one of the album’s golden moments and one of the rarest occurrences of synth-meets-soul on the disc. But none of those songs hold a candle up to “Love Like That,” an inescapable synth-embossed gem trimmed with Hall & Oates’ “Kiss On My List” seasoning. When he sings, “I want a love like that…strong as a heart attack,” the lyrics stick like glue, showing off Hawthorne’s genius in making memorable R&B. The equally impressive “Lingerie & Candlewax,” bristling with buoyant horns and sweet girl background harmonies, is also worth noting.

But, even with all of the goodness tucked inside Man About Town, Hawthorne seems to have fallen into a bit of a stupor. Despite the production, slick grooves and some of the lyrics showing off a finer grade of sophistication, much of the songs lack the bang of his heavier jukebox-ready cuts. Hawthorne’s songwriting sensibilities, formally glossed with Motown easiness, seem to be pivoting to the average. With a lack of definitive singles in a ten-track box cluttered with okay B-side offerings, Man About Town feels like a step backwards. Still, give him props, Hawthorne remains faithful to the procession of the retro soul revival, and this album serves as a healthy addition to his own catalog and for those hungry for R&B nostalgia. Modestly Recommended.

By J Matthew Cobb 

 
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