Mayer Hawthorne: How Do You Do

No sophomore slump as Michigan soul man finally lives up to his fullest potential.

Mayer Hawthorne

How Do You Do

Label: Republic
US Release Date: 2011-10-11
UK Release Date: 2011-10-10

What’s wrong with a little blue-eyed soul? What’s wrong with a little Stevie Winwood? Maybe some Robert Palmer? A tad bit of Michael McDonald? A dusting of Robin Thicke or Remy Shand? And, of course, don’t forget the poster boys for such a movement, Hall & Oates. Really. What’s wrong with them? Can you honestly say that you don’t genuinely (i.e. non-ironically) perk up whenever you hear “You Make My Dreams” or “Rich Girl” come through on the radio or an iPod mix? You’d be lying through your white suit if you argued the greatness or the amount of fun blue-eyed soul provides. The horns. The keyboards. The tempos. The harmonies. The groove. What’s not wrong with a little blue-eyed soul is a harder question to answer, actually.

It’s a style that takes time to master. You can’t merely run a drum machine, sing in a few falsettos and hope for the best. You have to think about what you’re doing. The hooks need to fit perfectly in between the heartbroken choruses or alliterated verses. The performance needs to have just the right amount of emotion – don’t even think about coming up short, though be sure not to over-do it. And arguably most of all, you have to provide a rhythm that anyone from any walk of life could mindlessly tap a toe to.

That’s right. Blue-eyed soul isn’t easy to pull off, regardless of how natural those four-part harmonies and vintage suits may seem. Just ask Mayer Hawthorne. Sure, his first album, 2009’s A Strange Arrangement, wasn’t a bad debut effort by any stretch of the imagination. And yeah, the grooves were there, and the hooks stayed in your head long after you pressed the stop button. But something about it felt a little off. There was something that simply felt out of place – it was as though the album itself wasn’t a complete reflection of the potential Hawthorne let peek through from time to time. It wasn’t good enough to garner much acclaim, yet it piqued your interest enough to make sure you checked out whatever it was he was going to do next.

Enter How Do You Do. The Michigan DJ’s second proper full-length release leaves no questions unanswered and no ignored potential this time around. Gone are the reservations about what the singer/songwriter can do and welcome are the ideas of what he may do next. There is no sophomore slump, no digression of talent or tricks. How Do You Do is the exact reason he tricked soul music fans into giving him a shot in the first place. And for those who did, the dividends have now proven to pay handsomely.

“Get to Know You” and “You’re Not Ready” are updates on the ballad style Hawthorne dipped into too often on A Strange Arrangement. Though this time around, the grooves are heavier and the feel seems less processed. “Can’t Stop” is the best the crooner has ever been when slowed down. The hip-hop feel provides a nice backdrop for Snoop Dogg’s somewhat unexpected cameo, and for once we see Hawthorne lean on his lower octaves, a move that does him well. The track could easily be confused with a b-side from John Legend’s Get Lifted.

What makes How Do You Do so much better than the singer’s debut, though, is his foray into up-tempo groove-happy soul music. “Finally Falling” goes head to head with anything that appears on any Hall & Oates record, simple drums and infectious hook included. It’s also the first time in Hawthorne’s career that he lets pop override the R&B influence. The result is a shockingly fantastic 3:20 of pop soul that would have fit perfectly on any radio station in 1986. That candy-coated sensibility appears again on “Dreaming”, a song more equipped for a Beach Boys comparison than anything else. The harmonies are pure sunshine and the scat keyboard line only adds more light and warmth to this California beach party.

That said, Hawthorne is at his best when he gets back to his bread and butter. “The Walk” and “Hooked” are the album’s two best songs. The former is a hilarious kiss off to a wrong-doing lover all set behind some 1960s R&B backing vocals and quirky horns that both suggest choreography could be applied at any moment. The latter, meanwhile, would make Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland proud with its Motown stomp and powerful brass section. The song transcends the idea of “neo” soul to the point that you have to check the copyright date to be sure what year the track was recorded.

How Do You Do is Mayer Hawthorne’s masterpiece to date. It’s the album you begged Raphael Saadiq to craft when he opted for the rockier nature of Stone Rollin’ over the brilliantly constructed retro soul influence of The Way I See It. With two albums behind him, this Michigan soul man now has the R&B world at his fingertips, waiting to see where he decides to go next.

So, again: What’s wrong with a little bit of blue-eyed soul music? Nothing, of course. Just ask Mayer Hawthorne. He seems to know a thing or two about how great it can be.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.