Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Mayer Hawthorne - A Strange Arrangement - 2009 - Stones Throw

This is a very interesting album. Mayer Hawthorne - dare I call him a blue-eyed soul singer has stepped out of the shadows and offers us a very surprising album of retro flavoured soul which embraces many styles and flavours. Obviously what this gentleman is doing is paying homage to the classic sounds that he - like I and, I am sure, you - grew up loving and holding dear. Vocally I hear so many aspects of different vocalists. Take, for example, the title track where the classic early '70s Philly sound of Will Hart and Thom Bell is aped I can distinguish a Spinners slant, the echo of Thom Bell or Bobby Martin's leanings a la arrangements, but the underpinning of the vocal smacks to me of Ray Parker Jr. I have to be honest and admit that I don't think Mayer's strength is particularly his voice. This, ordinarily, would be a stumbling block for me BUT in light of the tunes he uses it actually fits in very well indeed. There is...vulnerability and sincerity here and to me that's an all important element in what true soul music is all about. The heavy Atlantic / Stax styled drumbeat - think "Tramp" - is very warm and welcoming, and the vocal approach is almost Smokey Robinson cum Will Hart. The vocal harmonies are even approaching Moments territory too, and this amorphous mulch is very pleasing on the ear to boot.

"Maybe So, Maybe No" could easily have been on Motown in the early '70s with Hal Davis or Johnny Bristol's name against the credits. Fans of early '70s material will really appreciate this. Hold on! This is almost 2010 and look what we have! LOL. Talking of Motown "Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'" is right in that genre with a Funk Brothers styled backing and a Holland-Dozier kind of flow. Again, we're into the second decade of the 21st Century...if this doesn't make you break out into a beaming smile then nothing will! "Make Her Mine" struts the same stuff but this time with a Norman Whitfield bent. This is the sort of groove that the Temptations or Undisputed Truth could have recorded in the 1967 - 69 period. The Motown flow continues with the H-D-H flavoured "One Track Mind" and everything about the song has exactly the elements which made Motown great. This is superb material. I find his vocals, again, matched to the material. I could hear the likes of Brenda Holloway executing this well. "Shiny And New" returns us to a Philadelphia groove and that vulnerable element to the voice perfectly takes me back to the classic falsetto sounds of the late '60s and early 70s. Superb arrangement, total quality and well worth a purchase. My final choice is "Green Eyed Love", an All Platinum sounding gig with Harry Ray well and truly in mind here. This is, if you please, something that would not sound out of place against a track such as "Sexy Mama". Sound good to you? Trust me, it does to me and I sure think it's a good'un. A remarkable album for unremarkable times.

Barry Towler
The Vibe Scribe

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