Though I enjoyed a smattering of tracks from Hawthorne’s shot in the dark debut LP, “A Strange Arrangement“, I honestly didn’t take him seriously and rather quickly dismissed the crooner’s freshman effort as a novelty distraction at best.
Strange Arrangement was different, yes and while Mayer’s vocals carried much of the album’s weight, it still lacked a certain depth of the Lamont Dozier realism he was trying to convey for me to give it more than two cursory spins. After that, I lost track of Hawthorne’s efforts, totally missing out on his straight to disc live set with “The County” and hearing about (but not being pressed to check) his sophomore release, “How Do You Do“. In fact, if I hadn’t happened upon his stellar reinterpretation of James Pants’ Thin Moon, for a Stones Throw Records promo, I would have most likely continued overlooking MH’s releases.
Somewhere along the way, while I was listening elsewhere, Hawthorne had shed that “trying -way-too-hard to sing soulfully and coming across rather faux” layer and replaced it with the very thing it had been sorely lacking. Authenticity. The same authenticity that he began his career emulating, he actually started delivering and his music has greatly improved because of it. Soon to follow were the re-vamped, videoed and very groovy “Henny & Gingerale” (courtesy of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” bass line) as well as his release of a rendition set of cover songs, titled “Impressions“. Since those offerings, Hawthorne has upped his ante with several guest appearances, most notably for me on Booker T’s latest album, doing his troubadour thing on the title track, “Sound The Alarm” while preparing his third full length, “Where Does This Door Go“.
WDTDG makes a scant few, if any, of the missteps his first album does as it find MH completely within the zone, traveling his well-crafted lane of re-fashioning the old soul he has such a penchant for with just a tad more up-to-date slickness and glitz than the original tracks and distinctive artists he scrounges from. Leading track, “Back Seat Lover” details his willingness to play the background for a young lady and keep their romantic sessions on the hush, so long as they continue the affair and borrows its vibe heavily from late night spins through Bobby Caldwell’s catalog. “The Innocent” has a decidedly 80’s flair in it’s drum pattern while his vocals soar confidently through lyrics that seem to have been transposed straight out of the Hall & Oates “Maneater” manual.
Outside of the infectious lead single “Her Favorite Song“, one of the album’s strongest cuts comes in at number three
Though MH crafts a familiar storyline on Allie Jones -a troubled young woman with more issues than tissues, seemingly alone and lost in this jumble of a world and only Hawthorne is able to express her woe through the voyeurism of song -the difference here is the Ragga tinged production works quite well for the overall song and the timed, punctuated vamps accentuate Hawthorne’s decidedly slower and funkier handling of the lyrics. From there on, he delves even further into reincarnating sounds of the music past, employing Steely Dan-esque grooves with “Reach Out Richard“, which he released as a second single this past Father’s Day in tribute to his Father and his Michigan roots, later lifting a striking semblance of backing melodies from Stevie Wonder for “The Stars Are Ours” and rounding out the LP with “All Better“, a sparse ballad that Hawthorne uses to invoke a hybrid of Paul McCartney/Phil Collins vocal stylings to great effect.
“Where Does This Door Go” does well in Hawthorne’s catalog as a substantial follow up for the warbler, giving new and seasoned listeners alike, more than enough retro-soul to satisfy and further helps to solidify his place among his better known peers such as Timberlake, Mars or even Thicke.