Where Does This Door Go

republic records via Universal

Ever curious, your scribe tries when possible to catch the CNN late-night screenings in England of the NY TV show ‘Late Night With Jimmy Fallon ‘. The host is not without talent, having a laconic approach mixed with the lair of a breathless man who has just stolen something and cannot think where he should hide it, but along with a reasonable grip on musical parody. Besides actors plugging their wares ( ‘Fast & Furious 6’ anyone ?  please ?!) and a very cool house band in The Roots the show has a musical closer which can range from the surprisingly good ( Pulp reprising ‘Common People’ for the Yanks ) and the awful ( any number of bespectacled college boy messiahs collectives stabbing at ropey keyboards and squeaking into the mikes like a Wikileak suspects ) to major acts eg Eric Burdon, Buddy Guy, Brad Paisley. Twas on this show that I first saw this chap and his crew. In the early hours I was trying to put in a order for the Hawthorne current album and landed this double-set. Of course, I have been known – yeah just like you !!! – to buy an album on spec based upon a single ( here ‘Her Favorite Song) I quite like and find myself the owner of an unlistenable collection of dirges peppered ( nay,infested  ) with lame rap inserts. Was Sargeant stung again ?…….

This is an inventive, musical, subtle and rhythmic clutch of fresh songs NOT riddled with KanYeGetAnyWorse indulgences or Jay-ZZZZZZ riff thefts.  Probably ladies will find Hawthorne’s vice seductive along with his appearance. What I am taking in is the supple rhythm section players, the reflective lyrics that aren’t a bore, the tempo’s selected and the ingredients thrown in just so and just so right for the cut.

For a reference point I suppose you could cite Maxwell ( whose ‘Embryo’ set is a sonic cloud of sensuality rivalled for bedroom liasons only by Imagination’s more dynamic and pulsing ‘NightDubbing’ long player ) but Mayer’s voice has perhaps more of a jazz leaning albeit channeled into these songs with focus and taste. There are times when he could open up more and really let go and indeed perhaps he does so on stage ( we are catching him soon). But from the steady keys and spidery guitar intro of ‘Back Seat Lover’ our man Hawthorne sings it straight and tuneful, with it must be said fabulous backing vocal work and post-Isleys bass undercurrents. ‘The innocent’ is pacier and edgier, a tale of a temptress on the prowl, the lead vocal here evoking Darryl Hall in delivery if not timbre, not a bad thing in these sophisticated soul circles. More of a dub reggae feel on ‘Allie Jones’ and maybe it’s this cut that you’d play to a stranger to illustrate just how Hawthorne sings. He gets the keys right, no Sting straining here. ‘The Only One’ has Steely Dan pace, you almost expect Don Fagen to sail in after the intro, underlined  by the crisp horn chips agiant the block chord piano bumping. It needs a guitar line counterpoint here and there but hell I guess there’s enough going on. And just check that city-sound vocal arrangement, rich but still airy. Make no mistake this is urban music in the true stuff, not a trace of country here, don’t come here for yer bent notes and self-pity. Pharrell Williams lurks hereabouts…nuff said.

‘Her Favorite Song’ with its Little Feat / Meters bassline and mix of Freddie Stone guitar chording and E-bow lines still floors me…as cool as music can get and still be rhythmic. Larry Graham would surely approve.  But it’s the singing that tops the brew, male and female. Yeah and that hi-hat. Yes.  ‘Crime’ doesn’t take its Eastern vibe anything like far enough but still succeeds as a laidback groove that gets the toes tapping. ‘ Reach Out Richard’ is Fagen territory, a musical apology that to be honest I don’t quite understand lyrically, however it’s likely the best song on this set in that everything sounds really connected and the Harlan Silverman guitar swings, though I would have wah’d it from halfway, say. The title track is taken at jazz waltz tempo and would suit a female lead vocal of the Gladys Knight persuasion. A nice tone of mystery that for some of us might echo with the mighty Rotary Connection – a Chess / Cadet psych outfit way ahead of its time and still a matter of pride to Marshall Chess when you talk to him, for its boldness and championing of a young Minnie Riperton. ‘Robot Love’ hardens up the sound at the right point and the voices stop it being a cliché ‘automatic’ dance outing. Sounds like a set wrap-up number for the namechecking of the band interlude !

‘The Stars Are Ours’ could be single, great pace and catchy….Sam Sparro was doing this kind of material a few years back but didn’t follow it up soon enough to sustain what he had created in a slow summer. The insistent guitar line makes it, for this listener…

Closer ‘All Better’ is a tad pedestrian and sub-Elton for me but then there are bonus cuts on my edition – the knowing ‘Fool’ being compressed bitterness and regret and a supporting arrangement with more hooks than a fisherman’s pocket. The tense stabbing ‘Small Clone’ hints at MoTown soul/pop and maybe out-of-place with the more contemporary vibe of the core of the album. ‘Designer Drug’ has a dreamy chorale and neat bass figures

Clever but heartfelt, this is modern soul that will surely appeal to fans of classic Hall & Oates and Van Hunt. And it avoids all the crap hip-hop obligatory touches spoiling so much urban music at present. Will they be any good ‘live’ though ?

Pete Sargeant   

Footnote – we saw Mayer Hawthorne live a few days later at Heaven in London..a fantastic show packed with great material and sharp, clipped playing…a quality act, this