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Mayer Hawthorne – A Strange Arrangement [Stones Throw]

October 18, 2009

As DJ Haircut, Andrew Cohen stayed firmly behind the decks; masterfully cutting and pasting hip hop tracks together with the skill of a crafty 12-year-old schoolgirl. But under his new moniker, Mayer Hawthorne, Cohen has boldly stepped up to the mic to drip the creamiest of tunes all over it.

Cracking out some of that good ol’ soul music, ditching the trucker hat for the classic slim-fit crooner suit and a thick-rimmed pair of specs, I can’t help thinking we’ve already seen this act before – and I’m not talking about David Ruffin and The Temptations.

It’s much the same act that Raphael Saadiq’s been doing with his recent Grammy-nominated record The Way I See It, and basically the same make-up that Jamie Lidell has been touting all over town. But Mayer Hawthorne’s brand of soul revivalism is the freshest we’ve heard yet.

Saadiq’s vocals are so distinctive of the last twenty years of soul music (right back the first Tony! Toni! Toné! album in 1988) that to hear him so heavily reference 60’s Motown is a tough cookie. And Lidell’s voice is oversaturated and his tracks often massively over-produced.

Hawthorne’s A Strange Arrangement is, in comparison, perfectly balanced – it’s retro but never over the top, letting modern Dilla-esque beats seep into the mix. ‘It Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out’ perfectly showcases this skilful blend (you can see how after hearing just this and one other song, Stones Throw label head, Peanut Butter Wolf automatically signed him).

‘Maybe So, Maybe No’ is the ultimate slow-groove track with a subtle horn section and Hawthorne’s seamless voice trickling along without a glitch. And percussive like a steam train, ‘The Ills’ powers past it album-mates. There are perhaps one too many milky slow jams but overall the record is an almost perfect soul debut. Like a Daptone release but hipper – but not too hip that you can see Hawthorne’s tongue poking out the side of his cheek

[Originally reviewed for Bearded Magazine]

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