Friday, September 18, 2009

The R&B Blast: Hawthorne's Heights

Ever wonder what the white man's take on neo soul would sound like? Me neither. I was still pleasantly surprised by Ann Arbor native Andrew Mayer Cohen's (Aka Mayer Hawthorne) debut A Strange Arrangement off Stones' Throw. Despite Spring buzz with an EP showcasing some of the album's stronger tracks, the LP (released September 8th) managed to fly under the radar amidst the Hip Hop hubbub this month and it's a shame. It's an air tight, studied tribute to the music of Philadelphia and Detroit in the 60s and 70s. Hawthorne practices a falsetto soul indebted to Smokey Robinson, Curtis Mayfield and particularly Russell Thompkins Jr. of the Stylistics. Each track is filled with fan boyish homages: iconic horn arrangements and melodies lifted from Diana Ross' DSLs.

It's an immaculately arranged album with a love for heart swelling melodies and no filler, (even a stab at Mayfield-esque political soul comes off) but unlike other retro minded contributions like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings' 100 Days, 100 Nights and Rafael Saadiq's The Way I see It Hawthorne goes beyond solid. This is an album that updates formulas and feels fresh while remaining true to its roots, not unlike what Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi accomplished affecting Doo-Wop on Back to Black. There's a variety of subject matter all related to love in different stages but the wonderful title track, and the majority of the album's first half contain the best break-up songs since 808s. I'd heavily recommend it as soundtrack for putting together dinner on a rainy night.

Download: Mayer Hawthorne- A Strange Arrangement

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