EP Review: Mayer Hawthorne – Impressions

What can I say? I’m old-school. It’s only an album if you can hear it and hold it in your hand. But modern technology being what it is, and the economics of the music industry being what they are, I do understand that there are times when a digital-only release makes economic sense for an artist. And when it’s as good as Impressions, the new EP from Mayer Hawthorne, it beats the hell out of nothing-at-all. (Hawthorne’s pretty damn old-school too, so there.)

This one’s a special treat, because it’s free. You can get it here, but if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’ll tell you why it’s worthwhile. Then you can go get it. It will still be there; trust me.

The title of this six-song EP has nothing to do with Curtis Mayfield’s old group, though if it did, that would be pretty cool, too: Hawthorne could pull off a set of Mayfield covers just fine. But what we have instead are an eclectic clutch of covers. In the hands of Hawthorne and his band, The Isley Brothers’ “Work to Do” has Philly soul hints of Hall & Oates and the funkier end of (shudder!) The Doobie Brothers. (In concert, Hawthorne and The County actually cover “What a Fool Believes,” so the comparison is not an unfair one.)

Electronic duo Chromeo might not seem an act to turn to for a project of this sort, but Hawthorne makes “Don’t Turn the Lights On” into a slow jam: imagine Isaac Hayes’ slo-mo, extended arrangements married to a Curtis Mayfield-styled vocal, and the result is this track. It sounds a bit like early-mid 70s AM radio pop as well.

A fetching trumpet solo kicks off “You’ve got the Makings of a Lover” in style. This song sounds like a cover of one of those impossibly rare Northern Soul sides that somebody like Keb Darge might dig up. And as Hawthorne explains, it is, kind of. The Festivals were from Dallas, TX.

Another obscurity, “Fantasy Girl” finds Hawthorne employing his strong falsetto voice. The 1970s original was a demo, never properly released. Hawthorne’s arrangement owes a bit to – of all things – Steely Dan.

John Brion (the Grays) wrote “Little Person” for the film Synecdoche , NY.  (Yeah, me neither.) It’s a precious tune, and Hawthorne renders it with the right amount of subtlety. Some nice vibe work adds interest.

A one-take live-in-the-studio version of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” makes the point – if you hadn’t already sorted it out — that Hawthorne digs the 70s. A near note-for-note recreation of the original’s vocal part, the song features more straightforward instrumentation than the ELO original, but then you probably could have guessed that. Yes, there is some tasty Vocoder on Hawthorne’s version, and no, the original’s choir ending isn’t here.

OK, go get it. Impressions is free, and the download (along with a copy of A Strange Arrangement) should hold you over nicely until Hawthorne’s next full-length drops. Me, I’ll be seeing him at Moogfest in October.

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I have a material connection because I received a sample or review  copy, or an item of nominal value that I can keep for consideration in  preparing to write this content. I was/am expected to return this item  after my review.