Short Takes: Phil Spector, Laura Veirs, Mayer Hawthorne and More

Written by October 31st, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Mayer Hawthorne
How Do You Do
(Universal/Republic)
Rating: ★★★½☆

From the Dap-Kings to Raphael Saadiq, retro soul revivalists are a hot commodity these days and blue-eyed crooner Hawthorne is poised for a breakthrough in the genre with his major label debut. The Michigan based singer is not surprisingly heavily influenced by Motown, but also by the smoother, string laden Philly International ballad style epitomized by the Manhattans, the Stylistics and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. His vocals are slightly generic yet the songs are solid and when he shifts into falsetto, you’ll take a time trip back to the 60s heyday of this sumptuous and frisky R&B that moves from the dance floor to the bedroom.

Laura Veirs
Tumble Bee
(Raven Marching Band)
Rating: ★★★½☆

It’s an album of children’s songs, but before you groan and move on to the next review, consider that Veirs’ voice has always had a lilting, almost childlike inflection and these traditional folk/country/bluegrass covers have been handpicked by her, along with collaborator/producer/partner Tucker Martine, from hundreds of choices. Philosophically, if perhaps not musically, it’s a 180 degree shift as Veirs veers away from her deeply introspective originals towards the magical, playful, mischievous lyrics that make children’s music such a sing-along joy for all ages. It’ll leave you—and any kids you know—with a beaming grin through simple yet elegant arrangements and spirited production that taps into everyone’s purity, innocence and youthful exuberance.

Mark W. Lennon
Home of the Wheel
(Vagabonds Tune)
Rating: ★★★☆☆

There’s no mistaking this North Carolina singer-songwriter for the other Lennon, especially after hearing his full length debut. Production from ex-Lone Justice member Marvin Etzioni strips down the rustic, primarily acoustic, often haunting songs to Lennon’s emotive, tenor vocals and spare accompaniment. County, folk and Appalachian strains combine in sweet and sour melancholic tunes, some aided by ex-Dylan fiddle player Scarlet Rivera, that, like the lovely and poignant “Before the Fall,” mine a rich vein of dusky and affecting Americana.

Andrew Leahey & the Homestead
(self-released)
Rating: 3 stars

Country rock done proud with just enough Gram Parsons influence to provide the honky tonk cosmic American vibe but not too much to make singer/songwriter Leahey just another Flying Burrito Brothers super fan. Recorded quickly and predominantly live in a “semi-vacant 1930s movie theatre” during a productive three days, the songs and performances breathe with a rootsy realism that’s natural and organic. The tunes float, the guitars chime and Leahey’s unforced vocals keep the vibe fresh, vibrant and bracing, no easy feat in a genre overstuffed with less talented competitors.

Various Artists
Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection
(Sony Legacy/Philles)
Rating: ★★

Unbeknownst to many, Phi Spector built full albums around some of the legendary “wall of sound” hit singles for his early 60s artists, and six of them are boxed together here in gloriously remastered mono. That’s the good news. The bad is that the singles are the best tracks by a large margin, and there is substantial repetition of material throughout the platters. A seventh collects the instrumental “B” sides of the original singles, all quite rare. Much of this has never been available on CD but unless you’re a fanatic, you can stick with one of the many Phil Spector “greatest hits” collections already available, including the newly released double disc, expertly compiled Essential Phil Spector.

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