Fans of both Nathaniel Mayer's doo wop days and his funk conversion were in for a bit of a surprise when the singer returned to action with 2004's I Just Want to Be Held album. Gone were the sweet/exhilarating tones of yore, replaced by a rasp that only hinted at his previous full-throated soulfulness. The brass-filled, musically eclectic set sounded great, but wasn't the best backdrop for the artist. Why Don't You Give It to Me?, though, suits Mayer to a T. The production is gawdawful and the sound subpar, so much so that the entire album feels like it was taken off a (deteriorated) tape recording of a 40-year-old live show, except Mayer was a totally different artist back then. Yet the very rawness of the sound and the rough feel of the atmosphere that the producers worked hard to create perfectly complement Mayer's vocals, as do the fabulous blues-based arrangements. In a way, the album almost erases the singer's actual past, reinventing Mayer as a blues legend and muddying the waters between yesterday and today. It's an inspired concept, and Mayer and his backing band (three of whom double as producers), led by Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach, pull it off brilliantly. Sliding from incendiary Delta blues -- the sensationally smoldering title track -- to the psychedelic-drenched jam of the phenomenal "Doin' It," where Mayer struts back out his funkiest stuff, the group rides across the blues spectrum with abandon. Virtually the entire set was co-written with the bandmembers, whose own talents are showcased as sublimely as Mayer's own. Each song has something to recommend it, be it the sultry late-'60s British blues beautifully delivered on the singalong "Please Don't Drop the Bomb" or the blistering R&B of "White Dress." The set's sole cover, of reggae star Delroy Wilson's "Dancing Mood," is a definite surprise, and initially sounds terribly out of place with its syncopated rhythm and Western guitar, until Auerbach shifts into surf style and brings it back to the blissful blues. However, Mayer saves his best performance (and his piano skills) for his one independently written composition, "Why Don't You Show Me," a truly showstopping number. The album captures all the excitement of the singer's live performances, while never actually leaving the studio, with a group of tracks that already sound like classics -- a stunning achievement from all involved.
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AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene