Top positive review
40 people found this helpful
on September 9, 2009
The evolution of "neo-soul" and the reinvention of funk and R & B has been the unspoken blessing of the past decade. The slow mutation from Jill Scott to the British throwback queens of Duffy and Amy Winehouse have shown you don't have to reinvent the wheel, just take the old one and paint it a different color. Mayer Hawthorne's debut on Stones Throw Records, thankfully, finds an untapped niche in this genre with great results.
"A Strange Arrangement" isn't your older brothers booty-shaking R & B, your uncle's old Earth Wind and Fire records, or your dad's collection of Al Green. This record has a lot more in common with the Temptations and Otis Redding. Combining Motown soul and funk breaks and instrumentation, Mayer Hawthorne's music owes a lot to the classics and the easy listening sound of the early 60s and their favorite topic: love won and lost. Hawthorne plays every instrument on the record and has been quoted as having to learn how to sing for this record. It is easy to hear why: the melody lines frequently dip into falsetto and sometimes he executes it, sometimes he doesn't. No matter. The effort he pours into it makes up for the lack of training. The title track oozes along with vocal harmonies to create the lushest arrangement (no pun intended) on the record, first single "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out," despite its sparseness of arrangement or melody, just feels great. The horns of the cover "Maybe So or Maybe No" jump out of the record as well.
As a whole, A Strange Arrangement feels familiar and nostalgic in a good way. Of course there are drawbacks to his approach and style. I can't help but wishing Burt Bacharach or Hal Mooney (if he was alive) could toss their arrangements onto these sparse compositions and make them really fly. Very few multi-instrumentalists (Beck, Jon Brion, or Prince are excluded) can really put a session musician's technique on each instrument and careful listeners can hear this lack of polish. But for most listeners, "A Strange Arrangement" is an intimate, informal collection of love songs that goes down easier than your favorite nightcap. Recommended