Mayer Hawthorne isn’t a groundbreaking guy. His 2009 debut, A Strange Arrangement, aped Holland-Dozier-Holland hits so pronouncedly that you could feel like you were in, say, 1965 while you listened. Even his voice seemed inspired by a bygone era; a raspy falsetto, it would have fit in nicely on the pop radio stations of yore. Two years ago, it was easy to regard Hawthorne as just one of the umpteen soul revivalists to emerge in the last decade, but it was also clear that he had potential to rise above the others.
He’s getting there. How Do You Do, Hawthorne’s second album and major-label premiere, finds him maintaining a retro sound while smoothing that aforementioned falsetto into a buttery croon. Most songs here have an atmosphere akin to that of Sam Cooke’s “Another Saturday Night”, if tidier and more upbeat; the guitars and background vocals weave gorgeously, and the occasional brass section keeps things dynamic. Depending on the song, How Do You Do could be a fitting soundtrack for lovemaking or a Saturday afternoon drive.
Still, the success of an album of this nature ultimately depends on the quality of its songwriting. Luckily, that’s Hawthorne’s strong suit. But while there are some seriously potent melodies here (“Dreaming” is just begging to be in a Target commercial, while “Can’t Stop” will probably be sampled by a rap producer someday), the lyrics can be embarrassingly hackneyed. (“I spilled hot coffee on my shirt/It hurt,” goes an average line from “You Called Me”.) That’s not a huge problem, but the subject matter could be a lot more interesting.
On the whole, How Do You Do is a satisfying effort. Just don’t expect it to entirely replace your crusty Motown LPs.
Essential Tracks: “Get to Know You”, “The Walk”, and “Hooked”