Four years ago, fans of Stones Throw Records releases were hipped to this bookish white dude from Michigan. But if you didn’t know Mayer Hawthorne was a bookish white dude from Michigan, you’d have thought you were listening to an old, dusty vinyl re-lease from the Motown/Stax-era of black music. It was almost alarming how well someone his age – and, let’s be honest, shade – nailed that sound. It gave him a significant profile amongst music heads.
The problem is that he stayed in that lane for much of his music since and what was a seriously engaging novelty at first became a bit of a bore.
Then, a few weeks ago, my homeboy Travis hipped me to Hawthorne’s new LP, Where Does This Door Go. His alert came with the prodding footnote that Pharrell Williams was heavily involved. Implied translation: “Don’t ignore this. It’s not some more Motown-rehashing.”
He wasn’t lying. There are some straight-up BBQ-ready jams right out of the cooler on this album. Pharrell’s funky pits are all over the place – not just with the grooves (“Wine Glass Woman,” “Corsican Rose”), but the melodies and vocal arrangements, too. Maybe the melodies and vocal arrangements especially. It sounds like Pharrell is providing a second vocal tracks on ¾ of the album, too. Pharrell is only credited on four songs, but I refuse to take that seriously. If Pharrell did not directly write and oversee the production and recording of “Allie Jones,” then Hawthorne at least played the joint for Pharrell and asked, “Is it cool if I ape you this much and not credit you in the liners?”
Hawthorne clearly had/has Pharrell’s blessings throughout. Who knows, maybe he couldn’t afford – legally – to credit Pharrell for all the tracks, so Pharrell did him a few solids. I mean, this album could really be “Where Does This Door Go from Mayer Hawthorne (under the direction of and inspired by) Pharrell Williams.”
Well played, Hawthorne.
Now, please jam…