MAYER HAWTHORNE: A Strange Arrangement (Label: Stones Throw)

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MAYER HAWTHORNE: A Strange Arrangement

We ( that is) were the first UK-based media to feature Mayer Hawthorne. (Check the feature and in-depth interview on our news pages). Over the last month or two ‘A Strange Arrangement’ has been lauded left, right and centre while little old Mayer has quickly achieved a sort of iconic status. The album has now been officially released in Europe and everyone can make up their minds if it’s as good as the self-opinionated soul prophets say it is. Well, in short – it jolly well is! Most of the early reviews have made comparisons to Raphael Saadiq’s last album and yes in some ways ‘A Strange Arrangement’ is like ‘The Way I See It’… but in other ways, it’s very different. Where Saadiq’s LP was big, polished and smooth and featured some stellar guests, Hawthorne’s effort is decidedly low key, even home-spun… but that’s no bad thing. He makes up for the lack of outward polish with real enthusiasm and commitment and it’s clear that the album’s been put together with care and love. Moreover there are elements about ‘Strange Arrangement’ that don’t fit the traditional soul model. Case in point is the gorgeous harmonic opening intro – more Brian Wilson than Brian McKnight – while elsewhere there’s a quirkiness quite missing from the Saadiq collection. However the album’s defining feel is real old school 60s soul … and more specifically group soul. Dip in and you’ll hear flavours of the Delfonics, the Esquires, the Impressions and the whole Motown brigade. Hawthorne is even brave enough to use an old Motown song title for one of his. But the Mayer Hawthorne ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ has the feel of the Delfonics rather than the Temptations; it’s on the brisk ‘Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothing’ and the simple ‘One Track Mind’ that Motown is more directly referenced. ‘Make Me Mine’ has something of the feel of ‘Tracks Of My Tears’ about it too – though you’ll also hear echoes of ‘People Get Ready’, while on ‘Maybe So, Maybe No’ you might think you’ve discovered an old Esquires’ outtake. They’re all great cuts, but even better are ‘The Ills’ (based around the Impressions’ ‘Love Me’?) and the lead single ‘Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out’. On that one there’s a superb falsetto lead and crisp harmonies floating over tight beats – inspired (Mayer told us) by the late J. Dilla… and that’s the thing about this album – it’s filled with charming, little surprises and together they make ‘A Strange Arrangement’ one of the year’s best soul albums.
(BB) 5/5