It’s hard not to have an opinion of John Mayer. The extraordinary guitarist who has won seven Grammys in the past ten years and jammed with the likes of B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Herbie Hancock, will unfortunately also be remembered for his saccharine-sweet ballad, “Your Body is a Wonderland,” his horrible Playboy Magazine interview a few years ago, and his Lothario ways.
Musically, I believe Mayer is an incredible artist with the ability to write deep insightful lyrics, and play guitar licks that would even impress his rock idol, Stevie Ray Vaughan, but personally, it’s harder to connect with the persona we’ve seen on the tabloid covers. It seems things have gotten even worse for Mayer this past year as he was diagnosed with a throat condition called granuloma, and was blasted by America’s sweetheart, Taylor Swift (possibly), on her tune “Dear John.” On the track, she sings “Maybe it’s you and your sick need to give love then take it away,” making Mayer public enemy number one for an army of tweens.
All that can be a bit much for a guy, and so it’s only fitting that Mayer has taken the last two years off to rest his vocal cords, ditch his combustible Twitter account, get out of the public eye for a while, and head up to Montana to do some soul-searching. The result happens to be one of the best albums of his career so far, his folksy, Americana-inspired fifth LP, Born and Raised.
First single, “Shadow Days,” has already been dubbed the “Aniston song” referring to how much he’s learned since his tumultuous relationship with the actress, but it goes much deeper and broader than one woman. It feels like a genuine apology as well as a turning point for the artist, as he laments “You find yourself alone like you found yourself before, like I found myself in pieces on the hotel floor.” The video (seen here) shows a man who’s seen the error in his ways, reaching out in repentance for some sort of acceptance under the big Montana sky.
“Queen of California” sets the mood off in a reverent manner to the classic music pillars who came before, namedropping both Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, and the whole CD gets a mellow throwback vibe from a simpler time. He mourns the loss of those days of old on “Speak For Me,” realizing the vanity and entropy of the times, as he sings “They’re celebrating broken things, I don’t want a world of broken things. You can tell that something isn’t right.”
The title track is something straight out of the 70s with each note blown on Mayer’s harmonica, complete with harmonies by David Crosby and Graham Nash, but it still sounds good to this day. The strummy “Love is a Verb” brings back memories of the light breezy tracks of Continuum, and then renowned trumpeter Chris Botti makes an appearance on the epic “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967.” It’s one of Mayer’s most creative to date, and an excellent story, using the lead character as a metaphor for his own last few years of life.
“Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey” could have been another Continuum sessions track, and the whole vibe of this disc feels like it flows right out of that era. It’s almost as if Battle Studies never happened, and aside from a few good tracks off of that one, it wasn’t my favorite album, so that’s okay. “Born and Raised (Reprise)” brings the whole thing together with the same folk-rootsy twang that started the disc, bringing to a close an excellent new chapter in the Mayer catalog, and a seemingly heartfelt apology as he works toward becoming a new man.
Try This Track: “Speak For Me”