Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 10 Soul and R&B Albums

10. Mayer Hawthorne
Where Does This Door Go
(Universal Republic)

Charges that Mayer Hawthorne's approach to Motown soul was merely the forced efforts of a dilettante no longer hold weight with Where Does This Door Go. Handing over the production reins to someone like Pharrell frees Hawthorne to freely explore the genre parameters from an authentic and artistically pure perspective. Actively rebelling against the throwback soul category serves Hawthorne well on this project; the end result is a curious mix of the classic Motown sound, J Dilla Detroit swag, and "at their peak" elements of Steely Dan, Hall & Oates, and the Steve Miller band.

Navel-gazing this is not: Hawthorne is confident (as evidenced by his improved vocal abilities) and earnestly passionate in his take on contemporary R&B/pop music. Keeping things minimal on the guest appearance tip — save for Kendrick Lamar's winning turn on "Crime" — Hawthorne does his versions of hangdog love songs ("Back Seat Lover), pays respect via Stevie Wonder reverence ("The Stars are Ours") and even does a winning Paul McCartney impersonation ("All Better"). If you weren't a fan of Mayer Hawthorne before Where Does This Door Go, he may just win you over this time around. (Ryan B. Patrick)