Mayer Hawthorne’s musical vitality has continued to grow on me every time I hear his music. As many times as he’s been written about musically here,his own story as a musician is a very important one to this day and age. Born Andrew Mayer Cohen in Ann Arbor,Michigan the man came out of loving hip-hop growing up-inspired by his father Richard being a bass player in a local rock band called The Breakers and his mother Kathi having once played guitar. He took his stage name from the street he grew up on. After moving to LA, the multi talented instrumental/arranger/producer/singer/songwriter signed up with Peanut Butter Wolf’s Stone Throw Records.
Hawthorne originally recorded instrumental tracks for the label specific purpose of sampling by other artists on the label. When Wolf heard them,he decided they were worthy of a solo album for Hawthorne. After three of his solo recordings released between 2011-2013,Mayer Hawthorne teamed up with hip-hop producer Jake One for the electro funk/boogie album project entitled Tuxedo. Hawthorne was more a musician than a vocalist. But his soulful phrasing and range lends itself well to the instrumental craft he has continued to develop. His newest album is entitled Man About Town and the song that perhaps best shows off all his talents here is “Book Of Broken Hearts”.
The drum patter that opens up the album sounds (and possibly is) directly from the early 70’s drum machine the Maestro Rhythm King. Than Hawthorne’s revving bass lines opens into the song-whose main chorus is build around sunny rhythm guitar strumming. He surrounds this with several equally melodic layers of electric pianos and horn charts. On the refrains of the song,he builds this instrumentation on the pumping rhythm of the bass line. His vocals have the same propulsive quality. On a bridge of the song towards the end,Hawthorne sings with a sea of his own vocal harmonies before it all closes out on the chorus that began the song.
The fact that Hawthorne’s chief musical inspirations are producer/arranger’s such as Isaac Hays,Curtis Mayfield and Barry White it’s no surprise how he approaches his grooves. His vocal arrangements on this song come out of the Daryl Hall school. At the same time his West Coast style of funk sound has the heavy pop craft of Sly Stone and Quincy Jones’ productions for the Brothers Johnson in the mid 1970’s. Hawthorne doesn’t concentrate on trying to be new and original rhythmically,an approach which can lead to cold and boring music today. Instead he focuses on a solid pop/funk groove based on the time honored musical process that created so many of the classics of the genre he admires.
Filed under 2016, electric piano, Funk Bass, funky pop, funky soul, horns, Maestro Rhythm King, Mayer Hawthorne, Peanut Butter Wolf, rhythm guitar, Stone Throw Records, Uncategorized, West Coast
It was actually Issue 61 of Wax Poetics magazine that made me aware of the existence of this duo. During the first half decade of the 2010’s? It would seem as if funk,especially it’s analog synthesizer oriented cousin known as boogie,has been rediscovered as a vital template for contemporary soul, electronic, pop and hip-hop artists. And it’s really been healthy for instrumentalists in particular. And happily it’s emerged again from a source that has been drawn to it for over two decades at this point.
Stone Throw Records has really upped the ante in terms of celebrating live instrumental hip-hop and it’s offshoots. From the days of Peanut Butter Wolf,through the late J Dilla and Madlib. This was the beginning of hip-hop’s journey around to straight up funk again. Now Tuxedo has emerged from this brew. Staring the musical talents of Seattle native Jake One,producer for contemporary rappers such as Drake and Rick Ro$$ along with singer/songwriter Mayer Hawthorne? The duo have come out with a self titled album including songs such as “So Good” here.
Starting off with an insistent percussion accented drum beat out of the “Billie Jean”/”Ghetto Life” early 80’s “naked funk” school? A phat bass synth opens the door for a sharp,punchy and higher pitched melodic synthesizer. Both of these analog synthesizers dance and bounce rhythmically to the slow dragging funky drum of the song. This provides the musical core for Hawthorne’s vocals-assisted by an alarm like “video game” counter melodic line. A bridge of the song cuts out the bass synth and concentrates on the melodic one as an orchestral element-returning to the original electronic duet to the closeout of the song-with Hawthorne harmonizing with his own back-round vocals.
One of the things that I appreciate about this song is that it showcases the meatiest possible elements of boogie/electro funk. Jake One seems to possess a keen understanding of how much that style of funk and first generation commercial hip-hop of the early 80’s went hand and hand. The tongue in cheek video,recorded on VHS tape cable access style showcases Hawthorne,Jake One and the band performing the song in an expressionless manner. The actual song expresses a great sense of warmth and vitality in it’s melodic ideas-which lies in contrast to the loping rhythmic funk stomp underneath it all. A powerful example of modern day hard electro/boogie based synth funk.
Filed under 2015, Billie Jean, Boogie Funk, electro funk, funk revival, Hip-Hop, J Dilla, Jake One, Madlib, Mayer Hawthorne, Peanut Butter Wolf, Stone Throw Records, synth funk, Wax Poetics magazine