Mayer Hawthorne A Strange Arrangement Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Authentic 60s soul from an unexpected source – a cracking debut album.

Sam Hesketh 2009

If the internet hadn't been invented and people still bought albums based on the label it was released on, regardless of whether they'd heard it or not, then Mayer Hawthorne’s debut record would no doubt have shocked many Stones Throw fans. Indeed, a label that has built its reputation on the back of artists such as Madlib, J Dilla, Oh No and Guilty Simpson, has thrown the curve ball of the year by releasing an album that sounds so authentic of soul it could have come from the Detroit of the 60s.

Though Hawthorne didn't come out of nowhere – he was known as Haircut in Athletic Mic League and Now On – this incarnation of the Ann Arbor-born singer has taken the US by storm, garnering praise from hip hop heads and mainstream music fans alike, and with good reason. The music itself is simple at times – the title track opens the album with a hi-hat and understated snare which is similarly found, with the addition of a few piano chords, on I Wish It Would Rain – but this isn't detrimental to the album. Such arrangements augment Hawthorne's vocals and provide yet more evidence that he could easily have come from the era he pays tribute to, assuming the listener knew no better.

He's quite capable of the upbeat numbers too, and with lyrics like "I might not drive a new Mercedes / but I'll chauffeur my girl ‘til the edge of the world", it's almost as if the music is coming from the jukebox in an old-fashioned American diner. Album standout The Ills steps the pace up with a lively percussive intro and a crescendo of horns, hinting heavily at his hip hop background. And though he never slips into that world, such flourishes add further dimensions to an already impressive album.

Stones Throw boss Peanut Butter Wolf reportedly signed Hawthorne after hearing only two of his songs and, after just one listen to this debut album, it's not hard to hear why. He may not be the label's usual fare, but for those who are fed up with the new wave of soul and want the real thing, Hawthorne has stepped up with a cracker of a debut album.

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