More than a few soul fans were pleasantly surprised when Mayer Hawthorne emerged in September 2009 with his first album, A Strange Arrangement. It featured his soulful falsetto singing about love and girls, accompanied by a full band sound that hearkened back to the days when multiple instruments needed more than just a computer to be expressed. Strange Arrangement not only made the listening experience fun, but when word got out Hawthorne was collaborating with Snoop Dogg, it also left us salivating over the idea of teaming the Motown influence with the smooth flows of hip hop.

Mayer Hawthorne

How Do You Do
Universal Republic Records

After Strange Arrangement hit, Hawthorne collaborated with Snoop in a remix of “Gangsta Luv.” Though the song was already produced with The-Dream, this version is also satisfying. The piano and bass guitar set the groove with Hawthorne’s falsetto helping to establish a low-key ambience, while Snoop fully integrates his customary fluidity into a delightful, fresh timbre.

Though his second album, How Do You Do, does feature more teamwork between him and Snoop Dogg on the track “Can’t Stop,” it is only one song and it doesn’t feature the strengths of both artists. Hawthorne’s band attempts an instrumental interpretation of a familiar chaotic rap beat, with Snoop Dogg singing about love with the angst of a gospel singer. The song falls flat, without featuring Snoop’s flow and placing Hawthorne’s band in strange territory — perhaps disappointing those who were excited by the freshness of the “Gangsta Luv” remix.

However, this doesn’t mean How Do You Do as a whole falls flat. Fans didn’t originally fall in love with Hawthorne because of his forays into the world of hip hop. The first album was refreshing because it was fun and permitted listeners to appreciate the influences of a past genre. Hawthorne’s new album keeps the fun rolling.

“Henny & Gingerale,” one of the few songs to depart from the familiar theme of tragic romance, retains the youthfulness of “The Walk,” and “No Strings” embraces the party vibe. It’s easy to visualize Hawthorne shifting through crowds in his vintage suit from a Detroit thrift store, epitomizing white-man swag.

What perhaps distinguishes How Do You Do is a greater tribute to Detroit. Hawthorne, an Ann Arbor native, mentioned that he would record the album in Detroit so he could stay connected to the city’s characteristic grittiness. “A Long Time,” the second song on the album, seeks to uplift and assure that Detroit will emerge from the current mess and “return it to its former glory.” This doesn’t mean Mayer Hawthorne is getting political — he wisely steers clear of politics and maintains the music’s inherent vibrancy.

Mayer Hawthorne has crafted a persona that mixes the golden classics of Detroit’s past and the young swagger of today’s hip-hop scene, and though he may not have innovated his sound enough to completely satisfy the hip-hop portion of the mixture, it is enough to bring Motown out from musical antiquity.

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