Ones To Watch 2010: Mayer Hawthorne

Real soul - like they used to make
Mayer Hawthorne
There’s plenty that’s unusual about Michigan’s Mayer Hawthorne. A symphonic soul crooner making records that wouldn’t sound out of place pumping out of the Tamla Motown house of hits in the late ’60s, Hawthorne cites Fugazi, Mobb Deep and Todd Rundgren as influences. He’s signed to increasingly impressive - and unpredictable - hip-hop imprint Stones Throw Records; and, er, he’s white.

The race card? Well, don’t get it twisted, but it’s certainly come as a surprise to many that cuts like the gorgeous, vintage valve-amp funk, sun dappled guitar and strident backbeat of ‘Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out’ isn’t, in fact, a forgotten, dusty 7” by some criminally neglected Smokey Robinson side-project, but the work of an unassuming, dapper white guy reassembling the constituents of classic soul, and doing it in style.

His debut album, ‘A Strange Arrangement’, became one of the sleeper hits of 2009, with its sumptuous conflation of The Four Tops, ’70s quiet storm soulsters The Delfonics, Stylistics, and even a dash of more modern funk freaks (think The Budos Band, The Dap Kings).

Drawing almost universal adoration from press and public alike, and plaudits from such unlikely luminaries as Snoop Dogg and Justin Timberlake, suffice to say, Mayer’s a little overwhelmed by all the attention and sudden fame.

“It’s unbelievably surreal,” he admits. “I’ve been really fortunate - a lot of very influential people have been speaking out about my music.”

Call it the Mark Ronson effect, but ears around the world seem more receptive than ever to the balm of retro soul, and by virtue of the fact that he’s a white guy working in a similar oeuvre, Hawthorne is bound to benefit from the comparisons. Or perhaps the world is prepared to see and, crucially, hear music differently now, in a world less divided into rigid racial stereotypes? Either way, Mayer’s filled with magnanimity for his fellow soulster.

“Mark was one of the first people to ever play my music. He’s had me on his radio show a few times and he’s a real mensch. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”

Of course, there’s more to Mayer than meets the ear. ‘A Strange Arrangement’ is not quite as old school as it first appears. The finest track, ‘Green Eyed Love’, is a slow burning, organ-laced blaze of stinky, azure bud, a sleazy, bittersweet paean to the weed, its lyrics bespeaking its sweet release: “I know, I know, I know / You’re no good for me”, all to a backing that sounds like The Neptunes producing Portishead, psych rock guitar squeals riding resonant keys. “It’s not about absinthe, that’s for sure!” he gleams.

In 2010, Hawthorne is set to tour across the globe with his band The County, and introduce a sweep of new fans to the album in the process. Arrange to catch him at the earliest opportunity!

Words by Jon Mutch

Where: Ann Arbor, Michigan
What: Real soul - like they used to make.
Unique Fact: Detroit Metro Times called him “the fastest rising pop star in
the Americas.”
Get 3 songs: ‘Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out’, ‘One Track Mind’, ‘Let Me Know’

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Get Mayer Hawthorne's 'Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'' as part of Clash Magazine's Ones To Watch for 2010 download album HERE.

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