First Impressions: How Do You Do Again, Mayer Hawthorne
Monday, October 10, 2011
Mayer Hawthorne's music and I have 'strange arrangement' you see. He's doing the music I love, the soul smooth operator, the steamy windows distant lover thing. He's got the whole Robin Thicke-Bobby Caldwell-Daryl Hall thing going on. He's a more than capable artist as his ear is tuned into what makes the soul music market such a homegrown, vibrant and adventurous one, and he loves doing it, which you can tell due to the care he has taken in his creations.
Though he meets the criteria and checks off every box, slight skepticism emerges when it concerns How Do You Do, Mayer's second and first big label release. With all the praise that Hawthorne has received, not to mention the support circle that range from the talents of Kanye West to Mark Ronson and back to Justin Timberlake, Mayer Hawthorne is still a 'strange' case for me.
How Do You Do is Mayer Hawthorne doing what has made him a critical darling and gathered him nods of approval from hip-hop lovers across the board---just in copious amounts. He's crooning thicker than before, as singles "A Long Time" and "The Walk" are savory fun. He's rides the rollercoaster of love with finesse as heard on the irresistible, "Henny & Gingerale" and the equally prompted horn and hand-clap exercise, "Hooked". He also woos harder, as "Can't Stop" has him going into Barry White-loverman territory (even with a real 'mack' himself Snoop Dogg in tow), while the steamy opener of "Get To Know You" is a fabulous moment of soulful seduction that will get your under-roos in a bunch (and on the floor---ha-cha!)
Get To Know You
Yet, amid all this improvement, a glossy major label makeover, and even more attention to detail, things are still safe. Hawthorne adopts in abundance from the past, it's obvious, but he's truly saturated in it to where after a few plays, it all sounds redundant. At times he's channeling The Stylistics and the infallible classic Motown style with his multiple harmony approach. Other times, he bounces into sunshine doo-wop pop that borders on morphing into a Brady Bunch sing-a-long ("Dreaming"). Then he's comes around again by flipping through the Soul Men For Dummies book to get his Marvin, his Otis, his Sam, his [insert any soul man from the 1960's and 70's] on. It's oh so saturated to where it's a soul music overload with little to no variance.
When Hawthorne is at his best and most interesting is when his drawling tone is put in understated sound settings like the superb, "No Strings" (see Hawthorne's performance of this with Daryl Hall for something very awesome sauce) which hints at Hawthorne stretching his love for vintage soul beyond the typical fair. Ditto for "Henny and Gingerale" which flows like the sweet liquor into a glass, but just nibbles at Marvin Gaye's joyful noise of "Got To Give It Up"---not bites it off. This is where Hawthorne wins me over, when he doesn't press hard on the gas pedal, where he let's a little of his influences flow through with ease, slightly giving us what we want, and what we miss about good old-fashioned Soul.
How Do You Do suffers from it's own nostalgia. Hawthorne's knowledge and honest admiration for those who paved the way hinders How Do You Do to where it sort hangs in a limbo. And maybe it's me and my fatigue for the play-by-play Motown sound that dominated the music scene in the mid-2000's, but it just seemed that Hawthorne listened more to these artists than actually listening within himself.
To be fair, nostalgia means different things for different people, especially when music is concerned, and it's nice to revel and experience it. There are many beloved acts associated to the soul music of the 1960's and early 70's, and we can get precious about them, so this is where the challenge comes in for today's artists who are influenced by it, and want to join in on the rhythm. It's bold when one tries to re-create that sound in a new era to where attitudes have shifted. For those who enjoy the nostalgic sounds, we hope that with the revival we can keep what we love, but more importantly hear something new in the mix just to keep it from being meandering. Cee-Lo Green achieved this, as did Raphael Saddiq, Beverley Knight, Amy Winehouse, and countless others. Hawthorne also was in good company when he found middle-ground on his 2009 debut, A Strange Arrangement to where the 21st Century soul acknowledged it's elder family member. That middle ground is fuzzy on How Do You Do as Hawthorne plays it massively safe and never let's his sound change, not even hinting that's he's bringing something new to table.
While not amiss in it's message, it's just keeps things constant and expectant, as after listening to How Do You Do, I really just wanted to pop in the warm familiar of Marvin, Smokey and Sam, et al. Yet, maybe that's Hawthorne's intention with this. To get those who weren't around to experience this golden age of soul and encourage them to appreciate and honor it like he does---which is maybe the sole reason why we should merit this set.
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Release Date: October 11, 2011