Mayer Hawthorne: A Strange Arrangement (Rhythmethod)

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Mayer Hawthorne: Maybe So, Maybe No
Mayer Hawthorne: A Strange Arrangement (Rhythmethod)

There's a lot of soul -- and faux-soul -- around these days what with Duffy, Amy Winehouse (is she still around?), James Hunter, Beth Rowley who gives it a blues and rock twist, Alice Russell with a funk spin and, on the local front, Opensouls.

Of them all, on paper at least, Hawthorne might have the hardest task persuading an audience of his credibility: a buttoned-down and bespectacled white guy who looks more like a Britpop guitarist?

But he comes from just outside Detroit, grew up on the first movement of soul (Motown, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Curtis Mayfield) and here successfully manages to channel the spirit and style, if not always the sighing vocals, of his heroes.

He astutely opens this debut album with a 25 second Prelude which references Brian Wilson vocal harmonies and whitebread pop vocal groups of the Fifties as if to restate that these people took black music too. And then he is straight into an album of Smokey Robinson-styled ballads, songs in which he sounds like one-man Temptations (without quite the ache or gravitas) and Spinners, Stylistics, the Dramatics, Harold Melvin, the Floaters . . .

He does Philly soul as much as Motown, his lyrics have the same kind of storytelling characteristics as Smokey and Arthur Alexander, the arrangements suitably honour the influences without being too directly derivative, and the whole thing has a warm and honest Sixties-production to it.

There are "lost classics" here -- Your Easy Lovin' steals just the right amount of Motown bassline, handclap and saxophone that it could slip unnoticed onto a classic hits station -- and despite the odds (and the occasional lack of vocal power) this one succeeds in being a homage with a life of its own.

Proof? Down at my local store the eye-liner'n'tatts girls who looked they were more into Cut Off Your Hands and the Mint Chicks had it on repeat-play and said they were loving it.

They won't be alone.

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