Mayer Hawthorne (Andrew Cohen to his mates) won the hearts of the soul crowd with his first two albums and a smattering of tracks that he released over the internet (if you haven’t done so, try to track down his fabulous version of the Festivals’ ‘You Got The Makings Of A Lover’). On all those releases he peddled a beguiling retro uptown soul style influenced by what he heard growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan… a stone’s throw away from Motown’s spiritual home. Mayer, though, considers himself a “serious artist”… and as such he needs to constantly move on and reinvent himself and his style. So this new album sees him adding a new dimension to his music –a trend assisted by the outside producers (most notably Pharrell and Jack Splash) that he’s brought in to help him out. There’s still a retro feel to much of what’s going on here – but it’s not the soul of Motown, Chess or Stax; rather, the chief reference points appear to be Steely Dan and Hall & Oates.
The most obvious “almost Steely Dan sound-alike” is ‘Reach Out Richard’… even the lyrics are as oblique as anything Becker and Fagen ever penned and Pharrell’s production is slick and polished. He’s also at the helm for ‘Wine Glass Woman’ (almost a Bo Diddley rhythm on this), and the poppy/rocky ‘The Stars Are Ours’. The Jack Splash productions are more complex, though on ‘Back Street Lover’ he mines the Steely Dan vein too. Elsewhere on ‘Her Favourite Song’ Hawthorne allows Jessie Ware to work the harmonies while on ‘Crime’ Kendrick Lamar adds one of his distinctive raps. The album also features a stark ballad – ‘All Better’ and you also get a second CD with just four tracks… none as “produced” as the 14 on CD 1. There’s no explanation. Maybe they’re demos or sketches but the Jack Splash-helmed ‘Kaila’ is worth checking out – bright and summery and just at the right pace. It’s possibly the nearest thing on this album to Mayer’s earlier work… but , like we said, people need to move on.
We @ SJF were one of the first media outlets to cover Mayer Hawthorne and if you use our search window at the top right you can access earlier reviews and an interesting interview with the man from 2009.