Music Review: Mayer Hawthorne, “A Strange Arrangement”
Modern explorations of classic soul often fall short because the music obviously references specific songs while having no identity of its own. But there are great exceptions in this field of pastiche: much as Raphael Saadiq did with last year’s “The Way I See It,” Mayer Hawthorne’s “A Strange Arrangement” has its way with ‘60s and ‘70s R&B, but the emphasis is clearly on great songwriting first — these compositions could have easily passed muster with Berry Gordy or Leon Huff in the old days. The fact that Hawthorne takes dead aim with the production and instrumentation makes these 13 tracks of 45 RPM heartbreak a little miraculous.
Hawthorne, a deejay from the Detroit suburbs, seems fully immersed in the architecture of Motown songs and style. The handclaps, bass line and tambourine hits on “Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin’” bear all the marks of a Funk Brothers performance, as do the drum rolls on “Make Her Mine.” And the songs are worthy of such treatment: “One Track Mind,” a sweet love song about a shopping-addicted girlfriend, doesn’t waste a word and the rhymes flow naturally like a great, unearthed Smokey Robinson gem.
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