It’s a very tricky thing when an acclaimed artist makes the jump from an indie label to a major.  Will they retain that spark that drew you in to begin with?  Will they be forced to make stylistic compromises to appease the suits and mass audiences?  Will they end up as the soundtrack to commercials for Target and get in house play at your local Starbucks?

Without delving into a diatribe about the corporate music industry, I’ll simply say that these are valid concerns.  And I’ll come clean to say that when I heard that Mayer Hawthorne was jumping from Stones Throw to Universal, I was a bit uneasy.  But I’m pleased to report that not only has Hawthorne successfully made the transition, he’s come back with an even stronger LP than A Strange Arrangement, his  2009 debut.

I had all intentions of having this review completed much earlier.  The benefit to this delay is that How Do You Do is one of those albums that while initially good, quickly grows on the listener with repeated listens.  The album follows in the blue-eyed soul of A Strange Arrangement, but sees Hawthorne bring a tighter, more slick approach to his writing and production, and varying up his style a bit more than on his debut.  The end result is a solid 12 track LP that manages to be retro while retaining a contemporary freshness – and that is no small feat.

Hawthorne wears his influences on his sleeve.  Throughout the album, there are echoes of Curtis Mayfield (“A Long Time“), Hall & Oates (“Finally Falling”), and of course, Motown (“Hooked”) among others.    Yet How Do You Do avoids sounding like a stale ripoff of a bygone era.  Take for example, “Can’t Stop.”  This excellent collaboration with Snoop Dogg may give nods to Philly soul, yet it doesn’t sound out of place up against something like “Sensual Seduction.”  (Incidentally, “Can’t Stop” furthers my belief that Snoop needs to do a straight up soul/r&b album.)  Hawthorne’s energy and earnest songwriting allow him to successfully walk that very fine line between wearing down old cliches and creating something fresh from that which came before.  And he pulls it off beautifully.

Grade: B+

Check out the video for Mayer Hawthorne’s latest single, “The Walk”:

I also had the pleasure of seeing Mayer Hawthorne open for Chromeo recently (surely one of the best double bills of the season).  His performing chops and stage presence supersede his recorded output.  I love a good performer – I also love a grateful artist.  Hawthorne is both.  Beyond his very clear enjoyment in performing, his gratitude is evident if you get the chance for a brief chat.  I highly recommend catching him live – the remaining dates are below.

  • October 17: San Diego, CA
  • October 18: : Phoenix, AZ
  • October 20: Kansas City, MO
  • October 21: Tulsa, OK
  • October 22: Oxford, MS
  • October 24: St. Louis, MO
  • October 25: Nashville, TN
  • October 27: Richmond, VA
  • October 29: Washington DC
  • October 31: Philadelphia, PA
  • November 1: Boston, MA
  • November 2: Toronto, CANADA
  • November 4: New York, NY
  • November 5: New York, NY

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