Saturday, July 21, 2012

John Mayer's "Born & Raised": Moving Forward By Looking Back

John Mayer’s music has always spoken better for him than he does for himself. His often quoted, highly charged interviews and his sometimes tabloid ready public antics are often at odds with his well-received albums and great live shows. But after surgery to remove a granuloma near his vocal cords last year, a quieter, more adult Mayer seemed to emerge. His fifth studio album, the recently released Born & Raised, may be his best yet. This is a mature, introspective record by an artist who just keeps getting better with each release.

The music is firmly entrenched in the styles of the 70s, ranging from the singer-songwriter vibe of “Queen of California” to the smooth soul of  “Love is a Verb.” Mayer even recruits David Crosby & Graham Nash to sing backing vocals on the title track. The overall tone here is introspective, as on the reflective, semi-autobiographical “Shadow Days,” one of the best songs on the album. But there are some nice surprises like the funky “Something About Olivia,” the Celtic-sounding “Age of Worry,” and the folk-influenced "Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967" which wouldn’t sound out of place on a John Prine disc.

The excellent production & arrangements are by studio veteran Don Was, who’s done well-regarded work for Bonnie Raitt, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and many others. The band, including Sean Hurley on bass, Aaron Sterling on drums & percussion and the legendary Chuck Leavell (who's toured and recorded with The Rolling Stones & The Allman Brothers Band) on keyboards, sound fantastic. They are tight and completely in sync with Mayer, whose guitar work here is outstanding. It’s refreshing to hear real music played by real musicians. This record sounds good. Mayer sounds really engaged in these songs, giving Born & Raised an authentic tone that’s missing from much of what passes for music these days. 

He takes the 70s sounds of California country rock, Laurel Canyon folk & sensual soul, mixes them together, and comes up with a fresh-sounding record that really grows on you. It’s an enjoyable listening experience. This fine collection of songs manages to move Mayer forward as he looks back on what has gone before. And anybody who name checks Neil Young and “After The Gold Rush,” as Mayer does here on “Queen of California,” is all right with me. Born & Raised is currently available on CD, and in various digital download formats. The iTunes edition of the album includes a bonus track, entitled "Fool To Love You."

Here's a link to the video for "Shadow Days."

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