Rick McNulty hosts Left of the Dial on Fridays, 7-11 pm. Follow him on Twitter @Rick_Daddy
Mayer Hawthorne – Man About Town (BMG)
This is the best Hall & Oates album I’ve ever heard. Or at least what I think a Hall & Oates album should sound like: lyrically not profound, largely devoted to heartache and desire, but with the sort of lush hooks and harmonies that make new songs seem instantly familiar. They stopped making this kind of music in 1982 (some call it “yacht rock”) and the world has been a lesser place for it.
Frequently described as “nerdy,” “slick,” and “retro-soul” (sometimes derisively), Mayer Hawthorne is all of the above — though not to any detriment as far as I’m concerned. Sure, he’s a bit of a dork — but he’s a damned fashionable one. “Slick” is hardly derogatory when you’re really good at it like he is. And as far as “retro-soul,” Hawthorne’s songwriting and sound is a glorious throwback to lush ‘70s sophisticated soul (with more in common with the Philly sound of Gamble & Huff than the heavy-handedness of Luther Vandross). If that’s retro, then sign me up.
Man About Town is slinky like a pair of silk pajamas. Abundant in mid-tempo slow jams, it’s perfect for a bubble bath or for the morning after. Speaking of which, “Breakfast in Bed” is a highlight: “Don’t be in such a hurry/You don’t have to worry/I’m finding all your clothes/Do not disturb is hanging from the door so/Let’s order breakfast in bed.”
Hawthorne is musically gifted and yet doesn’t receive enough credit for playing most of the instruments on his records: guitars, bass, drums, keys and marimba. He’s practically self-contained like Stevie Wonder used to be. Hawthorne also deftly incorporates the vintage sounds of the Maestro Rhythm King MRK-2, better known as the wonky drum machine immortalized by Sly Stone in 1971. It’s an excellent texture for these pristine grooves.
Other standouts include “Cosmic Love” which features a seductive falsetto, plus barely audible sounds of, um, ecstasy from between the sheets (headphones pay off on this one). It’s a full-on yacht jam which makes me think that every copy of the album should come with a complimentary captain’s hat. Another favorite is “Lingerie & Candlewax” that spares us the details and instead focuses on what leads to the naughty bits: “Smokin’ in the Cadillac/Take a hit, pass it back/Starts with this and ends with that/Lingerie and candlewax.”
Like I said, perfect for a bubble bath or for the morning after.