Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but only if it’s authentic and not a straight rip-off. Michigan man Mayer Hawthorne’s music is clearly informed by the Motown era, in particular the music and vocal arrangements of hit-makers Holland-Dozier- Holland. Their DNA is all over Hawthorne’s latest release, How Do You Do, a record full of legitimate throwback soul.The arrangements on the album are all but flawless and if you didn’t know better, you couldn’t distinguish the music from that which informs it. Except for one flaw: Hawthorne as vocalist. Have you ever been in a store and a classic comes on and as you begin to sing along, you notice it ain’t the real person? Not that the replacement isn’t a good singer, but they pale in comparison to the original? Or when you watch American Idol on Motown night and the talented neophytes try to duplicate that magic? That is how this record feels when you listen. Hawthorne is solid and a serious arranger, but his voice just isn’t at the level of his music. That said, How Do You Do is good listening, featuring some great ideas and precision song construction.
Opening track, “Get To Know You,” flaunts that classic old school build with elevation, stringwork and intro soliloquy that give drama to the song. Hawthorne’s falsetto isn’t high enough in pitch to nail this, but the bridge and the background rock. “A Long Time” is a faster paced jam that is begging for Hawthorne to be replaced by Cee-lo Green. His inflections on the edges have a Diana Ross-like cadence that adds a familiarity that a brand new song shouldn’t engender.
The first curve ball is thrown with the Snoop Dogg-guested “Can’t Stop.” Hawthorne takes the lower range of his voice over sharp key work and moody strings. Snoop takes his vocals more seriously than “Sexual Seduction” but he can’t lose his “Snoopness” totally. The explosion of strings that intro “Dreaming” will blow you away, while the pounding keys that follow are infectious. This track would have been a hit in the 60′s with Neil Diamond or Tom Jones injecting their corny but legitimate machismo over them. The vocal arrangements may even be more suited for a group. Another musical winner that isn’t quite nailed vocally.
“The Walk” returns us to Motown with the guitars and trumpets that live on the edges. You’re so fine and I’m wrapped around your fingers, “but your shitty fucking attitude has got me changing my mind.” He exhorts her to walk her high heels out of his life. Hawthorne is ready to be wifed up on “Finally Falling;” tired of his married friends living vicariously through his single escapades. Now he’s met someone who is worth giving the game up. His vocal progressions are exactly where they should be and the electric guitar on the bridge is hyper slick.
The off-again-on-again nature of relationships is tackled on “Hooked.” Just as you think you’ve had enough of her shit, she puts it back on you and you’re back in her clutches. “You got me hooked but I don’t care cause I don’t want to go go nowhere.” That says it all. The salt throwing is in full effect as Mayer rats out some chick’s dude so he can get next to her a la Joe on “Stick Around.” It’s a groovy tune and all is fair in love and war, especially over brass like this.
A dash of island rhythm powers the kick her to the curb ditty, “The News.” “What we had was all I knew and what we lost was all on you,” notes the cool-as-a-fan crooner. “You Called Me” is another song where Mayer’s voice just isn’t where it needs to be to nail it. However, he channels his inner Smokey on “You’re Not Ready,” a tale of cat and mouse love, full of missed opportunities and second chances. The horn arrangements fly over a delicious bassline and smooth, butter-soft rhythm. Album closer, “No Strings” is the most contemporary song on the disk in both beat and sentiment. It’s Hawthorne’s statement that he is informed by the classics but not dependent on them. The track playfully brandishes fresh drums and snares with a flutey after effect and funky breaks that breath a different life into the record.
How Do You Do is a throwback record in the most complimentary of ways. Unfortunately, Mayer Hawthorne is his own worst enemy. The music is so good, you just want to hear a better vocalist. Mayer’s songwriting, lyricism and musicianship are top flight. His voice, while credible and by no means horrible, is not. Consider the album a real temptation but only three and a half tops.
out of 5
Follow Us on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/planetill
Follow Odeisel on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/odeisel
Join Us on the Planet Ill Facebook Group for more discussion