Beautiful and simple, “How Do You Do” is another hit for the neo-soul savant.
Mayer Hawthorne (link), the falsetto-voiced neo-soul hit maker, has something in common with Republican presidential candidate Hermain Cain. Cain’s appeal, in a word, is simplicity. Hawthorne’s newest album, “How Do You Do” (link) is simple as well: love, loss, and loneliness. However, unlike Cain, Hawthorne’s music and message is multilayered, wholly original, and has staying power.
I suppose a track like “You Called Me” could be misconstrued as simple: the story of a man who is so in love with his lady that a simple message of “I love you” can change his miserable circumstances. First, the protagonist spills coffee on his shirt and, subsequently, misses his bus. Next, he realizes he’s a little short on cash while attempting to buy a dress for his sugarbear. In both circumstances, a message of I Love You from a special-lady saves the day. But the simple lyrics of You Called Me belie a sophisticated overall effort.
Funky rhymes, strings, horns, beautiful percussion arrangements, “How Do You Do” is a tour-de-force for the listener: dance-inducing, soul-grabbing and a reminder that good music is abundant, as long as one is willing to look for it. As far as I’m concerned, Hawthorne’s only contemporary in the neo-soul movement is Raphael Saadiq (link), a man best known as a member of Tony! Toni! Tone! Coincidently, Hawthorne begins the album by speaking in smooth, dulcet tones: a nod to the good ol’ days of 90’s R ‘n’ B when Keith Sweat, DeAngelo, and, yes, Tony! Toni! Tone! (link) made young people want to find love at the mall or in the backseat of a car or on their Mom and Dad’s couch. He croons, “I really wanna get to know ya/I wanna learn you inside out. I really want to get to know ya/we can have some fun right now. I really want to get to know you/I wanna make you feel all right…” – I think you get the picture.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Hawthorne’s sophomore effort is not some sleazy ride through his teenage years. It’s a soulful throwback. Its music kids can listen to with their parents. Hell, its music teenagers can listen to with their grandparents. It’s like the Temptations and O’Jays and Teddy Pendergrass (link) and Clarence Carter all rolled into one. “A Long Time,” the album’s second track, is an ode to old-time Detroit: the cars, the grit and Motown. On track three, “Can’t Stop,” Snoop Dogg makes an appearance. It’s a little off-putting, but a valiant effort to expand the horizons of a hip-hop legend.
The show-stopper is “The Walk.” Filled with the kind of rhythm, style, and lyrical poeticism that is difficult to find, the track is an immediate classic. It’s the kind of cut that makes me want to simply transcribe the lyrics so I can take some derived pride in it, like quoting movie lines. Just trust me when I write that you want to listen to “The Walk” while you’re heading down the interstate around dusk.
Purchasing albums rather than downloading tracks from the internet – legally or illegally – is a worthwhile effort for many reasons, one of which is getting the chance to read the artist’s liner notes. Before thanking “all the beautiful women” for the inspiration, Hawthorne makes mention of his music in his notes as a thank-you to his crew: “thank you for showing me, and the rest of the world, that good music can still win.” A simple message from a musical genius on an album that is anything but simple.
[photo credit: Super 45 | Música Independiente]