Let’s forget for a minute that John Mayer spent his early career as a brooding ladies’ man, that he has dated every vapid starlet in Hollywood from Jessica Simpson to Taylor Swift and that his early singing style was so breathy he might have in fact swallowed several microphones.
Got that out of your mind? Good. Now let’s talk about the new Mayer. After last year’s underwhelming “Born and Raised” — the album only went Gold in the United States — Mayer has taken a musical left turn and embraced a relaxed, heavily country-influenced sound on “Paradise Valley,” delivering a set of mature, musically sophisticated songs.
Although Mayer was born and raised in Connecticut, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 1997 and currently lives in Montana. I mention this specifically because after listening to a few tracks off of “Paradise Valley,” you might be wondering who the country boy serenading you with ballads heavily steeped in country western and bluegrass is.
As Alan Jackson sang, this boy’s “gone country, oh, back to his roots.” And I, for one, am not complaining.
Dive into “Paradise Valley” with “Wildfire,” an upbeat tune that will make you want to clap and jive along — don’t bother with the reprise of “Wildfire” on the eight track because it inexplicably features Frank Ocean and is a terrible aberration from the rest of the album.
You should absolutely take the time to enjoy “Dear Marie,” a slightly nostalgic but sincere ballad about divergent lives and lost love with an ending that’s worth the wait. Another notable track is “Who You Love” which features a surprisingly sultry and soulful vocal collaboration with Mayer’s current girlfriend, Katy Perry.
Truly indicative of Mayer’s new direction is the artist’s cover of J.J. Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze.” Whereas the “Continuum”-era Mayer chose to feature covers of classic guitarists like Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love,” the new Mayer draws upon blues/rockabilly veterans like Cale to deliver a more rural vibe.
Although I think this approach will, in the long run, allow Mayer to explore and develop a more mature sound, there are certainly moments when Mayer’s introspection turns to cheesiness and the flow of the album slows to a crawl. “Paper Doll, “I Will be Found” and “Badge and Gun” are unmemorable at best.
“Paradise Valley” may not demonstrate the innovative guitar work and extended solos that purist Mayer fans enjoy, and it’s certainly no “Any Given Thursday,” but “Paradise Valley” is more approachable and mature than anything we’ve yet seen from Mayer, and hopefully it represents a fresh new direction for his sound and his future.