Cool crooner doesn’t change his tune on second album.
Marcus J. Moore 2011-10-03
Just two years ago, Michigan native Mayer Hawthorne came out of nowhere with his debut album, A Strange Arrangement, a blue-eyed soul rendering that called upon the expressive spirit of the 1960s and paid homage to Motown’s golden era. That recording, and a subsequent covers EP, revealed Hawthorne’s infatuation with the musical past, blending the feel-good efficiency of yesteryear with a modern sound. It also provided another glimpse into the retro feel made popular by artists like Hawthorne, Raphael Saadiq and Cee-Lo. But unlike Saadiq and Cee-Lo, who are both black, Hawthorne is a white guy making greasy soul music. By societal norms, that doesn’t happen very often. Maybe that punctuates Hawthorne’s novelty as a viable performer. Or maybe he’s just that natural.
Whatever the verdict, it’s more of the same on How Do You Do, Hawthorne’s second studio album, in which he pays indirect homage to The Beatles (Dreaming), dismisses a love gone awry (The Walk), and reflects upon the single life (Finally Falling), among other things. Elsewhere, the singer celebrates Detroit on A Long Time, trumpeting the contributions of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford and Motown founder Berry Gordy as a way to jumpstart the city’s re-emergence.
But unlike A Strange Arrangement, which came across as particularly streamlined, Hawthorne feels a little more relaxed on this project. On Can’t Stop, for instance, he sings a duet with rapper Snoop Dogg over a dark West Coast groove that feels comedic, but still somewhat serious. Elsewhere, You’re Not Ready allows Hawthorne to shine over a light blend of strings and melodic drum taps.
Overall, How Do You Do does not deviate from its predecessor, as its maker crafts a mostly upbeat recording that vacillates between high- and mid-tempo speeds, saturated in nostalgic allure and full of comprehensive tales of romantic struggle and perseverance. It moves quickly and travels comfortably, gliding safely along the rails as it moves through sonic space. Hawthorne’s voice also sounds richer here, even if that’s tough to appreciate due to the album’s hurried tempo – the singer is at his best when the pace is slowed and the backdrop is subtle. Still, How Do You Do is another solid step in the right direction for Hawthorne, who shows that soul music is universal and devoid of colour, as we all can relate to difficulties and heartbreak.