Merry-Making Music: Mayer Hawthorne’s A Strange Arrangement
From now until Christmas, I will be posting a series of reviews on albums that will make great gifts this holiday season. I’m calling the series Merry-Making Music and here, as the first installment, is a piece on Mayer Hawthorne.
I live with three guys from the Detroit area, so the fact that Nickelback played the Lions Thanksgiving day halftime show was treated like a catastrophe in my house. And even three weeks after the Lions lost to the Packers on Turkey Day, the miserable choice for a halftime performer still boils my blood.
Detroit is home to some of the greatest music ever played; it is the Motown capital and true Detroiters would have absolutely loved to see Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder or Gladys Knight perform at the half. But even another halftime performance by Kid Rock would have been more than fine with every Lions fan I’ve spoken to.
Instead, the Lions chose Nickelback, a Canadian band better suited for a performance at a 12-year-old girl’s slumber party than a football game. The Lions are relevant for the first time in over a decade; they actually have a shot of making the playoffs, which is absolutely astounding if you’ve followed the NFL at all since Barry Sanders’ retirement.
But the franchise may have burned their newfound relevance in one day when they chose to represent their brand during their biggest game of the year like this.
Bu there is a little silver lining to the whole Nickelback debacle: Mayer Hawthorne, a true Michigander, broadcasted an alternative halftime show from his parents’ basement that should make ever Detroiter proud.
It was this performance that first exposed me to this odd and intriguing new star. Hawthorne, born Andrew Mayer Cohen, is whiter and Jewisher than most – I, an incredibly white Jew, am an expert on the topic – but he’s still funky as hell. And he’s putting out music that no one has recorded in the last 30 years.
Hawthorne, a soulful Ann Arbor native, raised 40 miles and 40 years from his Motown contemporaries, hit the mainstream with his 2009 debut album A Strange Arrangement. He sings, produces and plays the instruments on his tracks; his voice is not legendary, but he pulls off a legit falsetto. And his arrangement and general steez (read: style with ease) more than makeup for slightly-lacking pipes.
Hawthorne has shied away from the “retro-soul” label and his new album, How Do You Do, combines the Motown sound with other unexpected influences, like late Sixties California pop and J Dilla. And there is even the novelty of a duet with Snoop Dogg on the track “Can’t Stop.”
But Hawthorne is at his best when he’s playing true-blue Detroit soul and my favorite song on the new album, “A Long Time,” an ode to the Motor City, is just that.
So if you want to stuff the stocking with some soulful jams, look no further than Mayer Hawthorne’s debut album A Strange Arrangement. And if you feel that your loved one’s been extra good this year, get them How Do You Do as well.
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