The story goes that Ann Arbor native Andrew Cohen, a DJ/producer and member of Athletic Mic League and Now On, began recording neo-soul tunes as a little side project for friends and family, layering in all the instruments himself, then singing all the vocal parts, and then mixing the tracks with a spare and lightly funky breakbeat sensibility. The result of all this was a simply stunning re-imagining of the classic soul and Motown sounds of the late '60s and early '70s, so well executed that Peanut Butter Wolf, head of the L.A. hip-hop label Stones Throw, initially thought he was listening to remixes of obscure old soul singles when he first heard Cohen's demos.
In 2007, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings nabbed it in a hard fought battle. Last year, Raphael Saadiq easily triumphed. And now, ladies and germs, I’m pleased to announce that this year’s award for album that sounds most like ‘60s-era Smokey Robinson goes to a relatively unlikely source: one Mayer Hawthorne, a suburban Michigan DJ whose debut release, A Strange Arrangement, so closely resembles Robinson’s early work that it could be easily mistaken for a lost Miracles recording.
If soul is a sound, Mayer Hawthorne has got it down pat. A Strange Arrangement, his debut album, on Stones Throw Records, is a collection of retro-leaning R&B so perfectly reproduced that Hawthorne's label's head honcho, Peanut Butter Wolf, famously mistook the first single for a remix of some lost classic soul side. It’s evident from the performances on A Strange Arrangement that Hawthorne (neé Andrew Mayer Cohen) has spent enough time around classic Motown to fully understand the very anatomy of the stuff.
A Strange Arrangement, in addition to being the name of Mayer Hawthorne's falsetto-laced debut, also describes the story behind the making of this one-man soul studio. Performing in L.A. as DJ Haircut, Michigan-born hip-hop fan Drew Cohen thought it would be interesting to record his own sample-friendly music. His complicated form of crate digging eventually attracted the ears of Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf.
PHISH“Joy”(Jemp) “Happy happy” are the first words Trey Anastasio sings on “Joy,” the first studio album from Phish since its rescinded final breakup in 2004; “second time around” are the last ones. That’s no accident. Five years apart apparently left the band members missing Phish as much as its fans did, and their pleasure at collaborating again comes through every song.