by Eric Tullis
Local 506, Chapel Hill
Monday, Oct. 5
R&B’s white-guy invasion isn't anything new. Though pasty dudes have been taking soul music for popular test drives off and on for the past few decades, recent history has Justin Timberlake’s meritless pop-culture importance to remind us of just how milquetoast it all can be. But people like Timberlake, I think, help open inroads for new singers like Mayer Hawthorne, an authentic white-guy-soul talent who recorded his entire new LP, A Strange Arrangement, in his Los Angeles bedroom, not in a fancy studio with industry geeks and big-time producers. This is appropriate, as beautiful things—like this record—happen in bedrooms all the time.
True: Hawthorne may not posess the stretching vocal chords of a Bilal, but he doesn’t pretend to be a vocal impresario, either. And his Ann Arbor, Mich., upbringing seems to have put him within such proximity to Motown’s contagiousness that, what he lacks in inherent soul, he makes up for with satin heritage.
All of this was on fine display Monday night in Chapel Hill at Local 506, when Mayer Hawthorne & The Country took a sparse crowd through its entire debut album, a cover of the Isley Brothers “Work To Do” and a hometown nod to Slum Village’s “Fall In Love.” Tambourine in-hand, Hawthorne rolled through zesty pieces like “The Ills” and heavy metal and reggae versions of “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out." He’s no great pretender, really, and there’s plenty of forced, overly compensated confidence in his stage persona. Part of his somewhat uncomfortable demeanor, though, might be that he never intended for this music to be released to the public, anyway. That sort of gleeful innocence assists his likability, though, so that if you can get past Hawthorne’s goofy swagger and his buttoned-up cardigan, you might find yourself falling in love with some throwback soul.
After all, love is colorblind, no? So if it takes a dude like Mayer Hawthorne to tell us that, “Love is alright, right motherfucking now," let's all just go kiss somebody.