Mayer Hawthorne – A Strange Arrangement (2009): Review

strange

Produced by Mayer Hawthorne
Label – Stones Throw

White soul singers are always going to have a tough time proving their credibility, particularly in an era where quality albums of the genre are a rare beast. For Mayer Hawthorne (real name Andrew Cohen), the approach is simple and admirable in its authenticity. If you’re going to release an album of retro soul revival music then make sure it sounds as though it was actually recorded in the 1960s. So faithful to the great African-American pop era, “A Strange Arrangement” could fool the listener into thinking it was released at the same time as a Smokey, Delfonics, Stylistics or Stevie Wonder album. And that’s what drew Stones Throw records boss PB Wolf into signing the 30 year old Ann Arbor native. Having been introduced to Wolf at an L.A party, Hawthorne arranged to send some tracks for evaluation. In Mayer’s words, “at first he didn’t understand what they were. He thought they might be re-edits of some songs from the 60s. Once he realized that they were new, and that I wrote, played, sang and recorded them, he offered me a deal with Stones Throw.” Hawthorne isn’t attempting to hoodwink anybody because one can recognise that for all the gifted mimicry of a bygone era, “A Strange Arrangement” is held together by an intense precision to the details that made 60s and 70s soul/pop music so great. The simple, cymbal heavy rhythms and tinny snares, falsetto harmonies, skipping basslines and obscured but necessary guitar lines are pieced together with the dexterity of a seasoned arranger. Indeed, the greatest compliment one could offer the album as a whole is the richly satisfying musical arrangement, and if Hawthorne doesn’t make it as solo star, he has the ability to make use of his skills in numerous productive avenues of recording.

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The songs, on the whole vary in quality. There are moments where the relationship with something you’ve heard before is just too strong to resist. “Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin'” is just too close to “You Can’t Hurry Love” for comfort, and “One Track Mind” is a breath away from Martha & The Vandellas “Jimmy Mack” in both stomping rhythm and cumulative “ooh’s”. On The Stylistics styled “Shiny & New” Hawthorne’s limited falsetto begins to wear thin, like he’s attempting something that’s vocally just beyond his range. But there’s a lot of love in this album, and although flawed, the cool groove of “A Strange Arrangement”, the simple lovestruck naivety of the sweet “Make Her Mine”, the melodramatic “I Wish It Would Rain”, and the dreamy “Maybe So, Maybe No” with its clever horn arrangement make for some dynamic moments. The innocent energy of foot tapping instantly hummable tunes drives the album, and for that reason Hawthorne has to take some credit.

7/10

Track Listing
1. “Prelude” 0:26
2. “A Strange Arrangement” 4:16
3. “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” 2:30
4. “Maybe So, Maybe No” 2:58
5. “Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin'” 3:03
6. “I Wish It Would Rain” 3:57
7. “Make Her Mine” 2:41
8. “One Track Mind” 2:06
9. “The Ills” 2:49
10. “Shiny & New” 3:00
11. “Let Me Know” 3:03
12. “Green Eyed Love”

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