Mayer Hawthorne: A Strange Arrangement

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Posted September 16, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

Blue-eyed soul pupil revives the fires of great soul and R&B with irresistible originals using nostalgic production

With nostalgic soul getting its just due respect in pop outlets, blue-eyed soul is definitely gaining traction and shows no sign of silence. Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse and Robin Thicke may be at the top of the list but add Mayer Hawthorne; a DJ/producer with one ear stuck in Motown and the other ear zoned on anything else resembling ‘70s soul groups like the Stylistics. On the front cover of his debut album, A Strange Arrangement, Hawthorne looks like Tobey McGuire cast in a motion picture adaption of Sherlock Holmes on the front. It’s definitely a different picture compared to the music assembled. Taking a page out of Raphael Saadiq’s successful throwback album The Way I See It, Hawthorne exercises his song writing abilities (and multi-instrumental blessings) on a plethora of soulful vibes stretching from doo-wop Holland-Dozier-Holland (“One Track Mind”) to satisfying Curtis Mayfield bongo-soaked funk (“The Ills”). “Make Her Mine,” also bearing his own backing vocals, also resembles Curtis Mayfield’s work on “People Get Ready” but focuses its brighter melody around the trademark percussion of Motown’s Benny Benjamin and Jack Ashford. Probably the best of the album surrounds the smooth romance ballads of “I Wish It Would Rain” and the title cut. Mostly aching with painful lyrics, the fresh melodies, though a lot reminiscent of lost tracks from the Linda Creed/Thom Bell songbook, is just as warm and rewarding in the 21st century as it was when it lit up airwaves during the 1970s. “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out,” bubbling over with the neo-soul magic of the Roots, is a delightful addition to the set, although entirely too short and fails to capture the beauty of Smokey Robinson’s light falsetto. Hawthorne isn’t the best singer in the modern blue-eyed soul genre; sometimes too thin, a little flat and a bit whiny. But he’s an exceptional student of the Stax/Motown tradition and is out to prove that the class is still in session. Word leaked out that Hawthorne, member of Now On and Athletic Mic League, began recording demos in the retro soul format as a side project; never intending it to make a career out of it. A good listen to the musical richness of Strange Arrangement proves he’s definitely in the right field.

J MATTHEW COBB

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HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 8 Sept 2009
  • Label: Stones Throw
  • Producers: Mayer Hawthorne
  • Track Favs: Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out, The Ills, Your Easy Lovin Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin’, Maybe So, Maybe No, I  Wish It Would Rain

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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