CD review: A Strange Arrangement

meyer hThe phrase “blue-eyed soul” may be passe, but it seems like white folks are doing R&B better than us these days – or at least they’re trying a little harder.

The latest example is Mayer Hawthorne, whose debut CD “A Strange Arrangement” is laced with the kind of soul and funk that makes junk like “Birthday Sex” sound like the vocoder-aided pablum it is.

Of course, Hawthorne will never blow up on the R&B charts because, frankly, he looks like the kind of extremely dorky white dude you might find at a Star Trek convention.

But don’t let looks deceive you. Hawthorne has been on the scene for a long time, doing a hip-hop thing under the nom de plume Haircut before shifting into focus into the throwback soul that’s found on this album.

You can hear the influences of legendary artists throughout the album, and while it may seem like mimicry or a carefully cultivated put-on, Hawthorne makes it sound fresh and contemporary. Take his first single, “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out,” a falsetto-based break-up ode.

Surprising, huh? Well, the vibe continues throughout the 12-track release. The song that I can’t stop listening to is the second single, “Maybe So, Maybe No,” an uptempo jam that harkens back to the Stax era. That dusty record sound is just something that never stops being fresh. Less is more is my mantra, and that’s probably another reason why I’m feeling this record so much.

Seriously, though, could you ever imagine hearing something like this on the radio? Of course not, especially when the Clear Channel conglomerate could play Black Eyed Peas for the 17th time.

The record’s not frontloaded with singles either. “The Ills” and “I Wish It Would Rain” are among the other standout tracks. Seattle folks, he’s going to be at Bumbershoot, so check him out if you’re there. In short, this is an album worth buying when it drops on Sept. 8 – like I plan on doing – if you’ve bemoaned the current state of R&B or are just looking for a little something different. It’s worth the investment.

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~ by Elliott on August 5, 2009.

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