Drop the needle in the groove on Mayer Hawthorne's album, A Strange Arrangement, and you might think you've gone back in time. The feel of the music is classic Motown soul, slightly surprising for a kid from Ann Arbor who also goes by the name DJ Haircut.
Despite the horn-rimmed glasses and Mad Men suits he claims he's not a retro kind of guy. "I wouldn't say that at all," he said. "I live in the now. I'm a technology guy. I don't live in the past ever. I'm always looking to the future, trying to do something new and innovative, out of the box, to keep moving forward. Today is always the best day."
The truth is, sometimes making music that sounds like it comes from another time can be new -- if you make timeless music. He does. His songs, which are basically him on all instruments and vocals, were innovative enough to land him a record contract with Stones Throw, a dream slot opening for Smokey Robinson at SxSW, and to get him on the bill for Coachella.
"It definitely was never my intention to create a throwback, a retro album," he emphasized. "I mean, I'm obviously very influenced by soul -- classic soul music and Motown -- but it was really important to me to be updating it and moving it forward, doing things you wouldn't necessarily hear on a record back then."
Mayer's on a "whirlwind tour" by bus with his band The County -- when we talked last week he was in Niagara Falls about to head west. His show at the Red Fox on Tuesday, April 13, is presented by Reba's That's How We Roll. It opens with a downtempo set by dreadlocked DJ Drez. (Check online for more of the Mayer interview.)
Also from THWR, and also at the Red Fox, a Thursday, April 8 show featuring smooth soul/hip hop DJ/producer RJD2 who came out of the Definitive Jux school. He now has his own label and a colossal new release, The Colossus (playing while I type). He's touring with Busdriver, an L.A. rapper from the Project Blowed/Good Life underground. Advance tix recommended.
This Sunday's Deep Groove Society Sundaze at the Jambalaya has opening sets by locals Masta Shredda and Deep Groover Kulebra, then an import: all the way from South London, Roska, a rising star remixer/riddim maker who merges dubstep with funky African beats to create a new genre, funkstep.
And speaking of Africa, Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal returns to the Van Duzer for a show Tuesday, April 13. He's amazing.
More international electro talent coming to the Jam: Russian ex-pat DJ Vadim takes reggae/dancehall night in a new direction next Wednesday, April 14, after Akaboom sets the scene.
KHSU 50th anniversary series continues Thursdays at Humboldt Brews. April 8, they celebrate Brooks Otis' Keys to the Highway (Mondays 2-4 p.m.) and The Folklife Woodshed (Sundays at 5 p.m.) with gypsy jazzer Tom Toohey and friends, aka Bon Swing, and The Compost Mountain Boys (in their regular HumBrews slot).
More folk across town that night at the Arcata Theater Lounge, Joy Kills Sorrow, the fine folk/indie band from Boston, returns to celebrate its debut CD Darkness Sure Becomes This City. John Ludington opens.
Local rhythm purveyor Jesse Jonathan, now working with the teen MARZ Project, set up a series of benefits. The first is Friday at the Red Fox with guitarist Todd Krider, The Grass Band and Kindred Spirits. "One hundred percent of proceeds go to MARZ to support the program and upgrade our video and audio gear," says Jesse. That's cool, but shouldn't this be at an all-ages venue so the teens can come?
Another Friday fundraiser: Yogoman Burning Band, a Bellingham reggae/rock/etc. outfit with a strong local following, plays the Mateel. SambAmore adds to the madness; SoHum's The Brass Menagerie opens. Proceeds support South Fork High School art and music programs. (This one's all ages.)
Yet another Haiti benefit, this time a two-nighter with art and music (and a raffle) at the old F St. Garage (F and 11th in Arcata, right behind the ATL). Friday (Arts! Arcata night) groove to TCH Sounds and Devstep (DJs) and reggae by Evergreen Dub from Berkeley. Saturday it's DJs Rio and Nit Grit with Poetic Motion Machine jugglers. Proceeds go to Mercy Corps, a Portland NGO doing good work in Haiti and all over the world.
Local songster Chris Parreira writes to say that Friday's show by S.F. songwriter John Craigie "will NOT be at Muddy's as they have been closed for several weeks." (Now it's at Redwood Yogurt.) "I'll be performing with local songwriter Claire Hashem-Hanlon under the name Chris & Claire -- folk, pop and bluegrass that falls somewhere between The Weepies and Gillian Welch/Dave Rawlings." And, he notes, they'll all be on KHUM that day at 11 a.m. Tune in.
Remember the local crew preparing to head down to New Orleans for Jazz Fest? They're ready to roll, and they're all playing this weekend: Berel Alexander Ensemble goes acoustic Friday at Mosgo's; electro-funksters Moo-Got-2 are at the Jambalaya Saturday; some of them are in The Lowdown, who play the Red Fox Sunday, this time with the awesome turntablist DJ Logic.
Bad Kitty Norm offers a triple shot of psychobilly Saturday at the Eureka Vet's Hall with Koffin Kats, Sawyer Family and Dr. Bojangles and the Zombie Revival. Meanwhile at the Arcata Theater Lounge, House of Floyd expands on Pink F music illuminated by lasers and such.
After tooling around the U.S. for months on end, Oakland psyche sludge quartet Stress Ape is back in Cali, stopping at the Alibi on Saturday before heading home. Among the Apes is ex-local Max Brotman, formerly of too many local bands to name here. Also on the bill: The Hard Ride.
Mayan archeologist Zac Hruby is done with the big Maya conference and turning to his other love: Rock! He's teamed up with Ryan McGonagle, Joaquin Dominick and Collin Gradek for what Zac describes as a "pretty good rock band called God Particles -- appropriate given that the new atom smasher is back on line. We're playing last at the Nocturnum on Saturday with Common Vice, Mister Moonbeam, and an out-of-towner, Smirker." Smirker's a psyche/blues/rock outfit from Sacto that recently enlisted former local Jay Swanigan of The Dirt Nap Band as bass player.
Blues? You've got 'em in spades when stellar Chicago bluesman Nick Gravanites and his band return to the Riverwood for a Saturday bash.
Sunday at Humboldt Brews, a visit by San Diego cumbia/funk/reggae/etc. masters The B-Side Players, still fronted by Karlos "Solrak" Paez. Should be a hot one. Coming up next Wednesday at HumBrews, SambaDá, an equally hot Afro-Brazilian funk outfit from Santa Cruz.
A couple of years ago Fred Thomas, leader of Michigan indie band Saturday Looks Good To Me, left the Midwest behind and moved to New York City. With SLGTM bandmate Ryan Howard, he formed the duo City Center and kept recording, crafting dark yet gorgeous pop songs that shimmer in unusual ways. A few of those songs are collected on a new limited-edition EP, Spring St., the kind of thing only available at shows or in hip indie record stores. City Center's on the road, mostly playing all-ages shows at art spaces and DIY venues. They'll be in Arcata next Tuesday for a matinee in-store (3-ish) at that hip indie hangout Missing Link Records.
Six Rivers Brewery goes wild Wednesday, April 14, with Circus Night, an all-ages multi-act show including The Freelove Circus, Shadow the Wonder Dog and, from Brooklyn, The Hungry March Band. The global alt. brass combo played over the weekend at the HONK! West Festival in Seattle; then headed south on their "It Came From New York!" tour. Honk if you love music!