Mayer Hawthorne's oldschool pop-R&B homages are so meticulous that it's tempting to overrate his pipes. Dude's got a convincing falsetto; in the Seventies, he might've made the backup-harmony cut for some mid-level vocal group. Hawthorne's second album is full of Philly soul strings and yacht-rock brass; "The Walk" could pass for the Young Rascals in 1966 if not for its Cee Lo-era swear words.
In an era of outsourcing, the neo-soul mantle is being carried by four-eyed, family-friendly Jewish boys. Mayer Hawthorne’s sturdy sophomore effort boasts “aw, shucks” love songs gift-wrapped in a silky Curtis Mayfield falsetto. Peppy numbers like “Stick Around” are all swaying brass and lilting harmonies; even break-up ballad “The Walk” leans on the sugared side of bittersweet.
Press play on Mayer Hawthorne’s latest, How Do You Do, and step into any Smokey Robinson record. Don’t be fooled by the album cover – in this case, looks are incredibly deceiving. Hawthorne may be hipster in dress, but his voice is completely Motown. The throwback artist lane is strictly survival of the fittest, the distinction between Grammy Award winning Adele and one-hit wonder Duffy.
What’s wrong with a little blue-eyed soul? What’s wrong with a little Stevie Winwood? Maybe some Robert Palmer? A tad bit of Michael McDonald? A dusting of Robin Thicke or Remy Shand? And, of course, don’t forget the poster boys for such a movement, Hall & Oates. Really. What’s wrong with them? Can you honestly say that you don’t genuinely (i.e.
When your debut album is released on the taste-making underground label Stones Throw and declared fantastic by both John Mayer and Kanye West, you’re unbelievably cool and completely under the microscope. Such is the story of Mayer Hawthorne, the Ann Arbor, Michigan resident who early on did a lot of hip-hop things and such, but for the purposes of his second album and debut for the major label Universal, he’s the neo-soul singer with a gifted voice who uncannily sounds like a ‘60s-era Temptation given the 2011 ability to drop an F-bomb. That may sound like Cee Lo Green, and there’s no doubt that How Do You Do stands in the shadow the Goodie Mob member who got there first, but this particular bespectacled singer looks like a Wall Street intern, making his Motown jones all the more unexpected, and for some, suspect.
Since Drew Cohen changed his name to Mayer Hawthorne and started recording non-ironic, nostalgic soul records, it has seemed like he’s only one ad placement from being the male answer to Adele. In a near future, it’s easy to imagine Hawthorne’s inoffensive rendering of ‘70s soul as the soundtrack to our trips to Gap, Burger King, or the Apple store. And while I don’t (completely) mean that as a pejorative, it’s true: Hawthorne’s music is comforting and totally familiar, with just enough “new” to make it seem different than those albums where Michael McDonald covered Motown singles.
Mayer Hawthorne’s middling debut album, A Strange Arrangement, garnered some high-profile celebrity fans, among them Justin Timberlake and Kanye West, and that friends-in-high-places platform contributed to a major-label contract with Universal for his follow-up, How Do You Do. Hawthorne puts a bigger recording budget to fairly good use over the course of the album: The musicianship is simply flawless in recreating a ‘70s-era R&B groove, but the slick production sounds contemporary. Hawthorne’s jump to the big leagues gives him new ways to highlight the things he does well, but unfortunately, it doesn’t keep the same problems that marred A Strange Arrangement from doing the same to How Do You Do.
Mayer Hawthorne isn’t a groundbreaking guy. His 2009 debut, A Strange Arrangement, aped Holland-Dozier-Holland hits so pronouncedly that you could feel like you were in, say, 1965 while you listened. Even his voice seemed inspired by a bygone era; a raspy falsetto, it would have fit in nicely on the pop radio stations of yore. Two years ago, it was easy to regard Hawthorne as just one of the umpteen soul revivalists to emerge in the last decade, but it was also clear that he had potential to rise above the others.
From the Dap-Kings to Raphael Saadiq, retro soul revivalists are a hot commodity these days and blue-eyed crooner Hawthorne is poised for a breakthrough in the genre with his major label debut. The Michigan based singer is not surprisingly heavily influenced by Motown, but also by the smoother, string laden Philly International ballad style epitomized by the Manhattans, the Stylistics and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. His vocals are slightly generic yet the songs are solid and when he shifts into falsetto, you’ll take a time trip back to the 60s heyday of this sumptuous and frisky R&B that moves from the dance floor to the bedroom.
SOUL From its suave title to the very first words on it - “So here we are/ It’s the end of the night/ Yeah, I had a good time, too/ You know, it doesn’t have to end here’’ - Mayer Hawthorne’s amusing new album comes across like a pickup line uttered at last call. “How Do You Do,’’ his sophomore release, pays winking homage to a retro strain of Motown soul, R&B, funk, and pop. Here’s the trick: Hawthorne doesn’t take himself, or the music, too seriously; a man who sings, “Your cocoa-butter skin now/ Has got me begging for more’’ clearly has a healthy sense of humor.
Cool crooner doesn’t change his tune on second album. Marcus J. Moore 2011 Just two years ago, Michigan native Mayer Hawthorne came out of nowhere with his debut album, A Strange Arrangement, a blue-eyed soul rendering that called upon the expressive spirit of the 1960s and paid homage to Motown’s golden era. That recording, and a subsequent covers EP, revealed Hawthorne’s infatuation with the musical past, blending the feel-good efficiency of yesteryear with a modern sound.