Mayer Hawthorne

How Do You Do

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When your debut album is released on the taste-making underground label Stones Throw and declared fantastic by both John Mayer and Kanye West, you’re unbelievably cool and completely under the microscope. Such is the story of Mayer Hawthorne, the Ann Arbor, Michigan resident who early on did a lot of hip-hop things and such, but for the purposes of his second album and debut for the major label Universal, he’s the neo-soul singer with a gifted voice who uncannily sounds like a ‘60s-era Temptation given the 2011 ability to drop an F-bomb. That may sound like Cee Lo Green, and there’s no doubt that How Do You Do stands in the shadow the Goodie Mob member who got there first, but this particular bespectacled singer looks like a Wall Street intern, making his Motown jones all the more unexpected, and for some, suspect. On top of it, he retains a crate-crawling nerd’s love of nostalgic soul that’s very Stones Throw, so expect some overly authentic numbers where the adherence to an aesthetic is an arguable obstacle. That said, it’s a testament to Hawthorne’s songwriting ability that this wall is easily scaled after one or two listens, and that the man sounds more natural and loose than on his debut might be this album’s greatest asset, making the vulgar drops and other nods to the present feel less mannered than before. New avenues are explored as Snoop Dogg is invited to croon, not rap, on the almost Timberlake “Can’t Stop,” while the jaunty, finger-popping “Dreaming” offers a well-written, surreal vision of the world coming to an end, challenging stuff and well executed within Hawthorne’s retro rules as well. When you add “The Walk” as his greatest songwriting achievement to date, a loving anthem for Detroit called “A Long Time,” plus a bunch of crowd-pleasing moves that come straight out of the Hitsville USA rule book, it's easy to stop being befuddled by Hawthorne’s love letter to the past and start craving it.

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