John Mayer gets humble, honest, and a little bit country
There are two types of classic albums in the world: the ones you love instantly and the ones that take a few thoughtful listens before they permanently seep into your bloodstream, and then your soul. John Mayer’s seventh studio album, Born and Raised, is the latter. The now country inclined singer/songwriter/guitarist proves that he is still the king of melancholic, heart-wrenching guitar ballads.
This time, it’s Neil Young and his new home in Montana that inspire the melodies cushioning his gentle crooning. There’s a little bit of banjo, and a lot of harmonica – but it works. “Whiskey Whiskey Whiskey” is the one track that seems a little reminiscent of the old John Mayer – the man that was younger, more naive, more of a trouble maker, and much less self-aware. The song has a slight sappy cowboy vibe and lyrics like “Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey. Water, water, water. Sleep… Wake up shake it off and repeat. It’s just a phase, it’s not forever. But I still might have a ways to go.”
The rest of the album, however, is populated by soft spoken gems and summer porch wonders. Songs like “Face to Call Home and “If I Ever Get Around to Living” stand out as deeply personal odes. They hit you hard after a few listens. Before you know it, you’re closing your eyes and swaying, hoping you had a piece of paper to write down all of Mayer’s contemplations. The usual subjects prevail: life, love, friends, family. Yet, there is a lot of personal growth in Mayer’s sound and in his words, as well.
For a man who, only a few years ago, had all of North America hating on him after a horrendously condescending interview for Playboy, he has come a long way. It seems the backlash and his subsequent health problems (an operation and voice therapy, after Mayer found a growth in his throat) took a toll on the singer, but musically he seems right where he needs to be.After hits like “Your Body is a Wonderland” and stoner anthem “Who Says,” the maturity and sincerity sound good on him.
The album drips with Mayer’s unparalleled knack for a killer lyric. The title track, “Born and Raised,” is an ode to his past, his parents, and the realizations that come with adulthood: “Then all at once it gets hard to take, it gets hard to fake what I won’t be… I still have dreams, there not the same. They don’t fly as high as they used to.” “Something like Olivia” is a cheeky, upbeat tune about a girl he wishes were his: “Well, Olivia is taken, but a look like hers can be found from time to time. Something like Olivia, is what I need to find.” “Shadow Days” is probably the most honest track on the album, with the most quote-worthy lines. It seems to be Mayer’s plea for redemption, as well as a nod to his not-so admirable past and the personal growth that has followed. “Well it sucks to be honest, and it hurts to be real,” he sings, “I’m a good man, with a good heart. Had a tough time, got a rough start. But I’ve finally learned to let it go.”
It’s safe to say, every song was a journey, or at least a realization, for Mayer. He’s as confessional as ever. Although he may look like a country bumpkin on the album’s cover, Born and Raised is proof that we should take him seriously. The depth and humility shown from the first to the last track makes the album worthy of numerous repeated listens – and the mellow, pensive sound ensures that you’ll be listening to it for weeks to come. His album is far from his big band and blues roots, but it is much less country than expected. Some fans will long for the Mayer behind Continuum or Room for Squares — a younger, more conceited, “pop”ier Mayer. Yet, underneath the sound of Mayer’s harmonica is the same soulful voice and acoustic-driven vision.
No one but Mayer knows why he recently moved to Montana or why the sweeping mountains and country roads seen in his “Shadow Days” video currently inspire him. Regardless, this new, softer, amend-making side of Mayer catapults him into the kind, lovable man fans always wished he would be. He has said that making the album got him through the past few years, and bears the reality of those hardships. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to promote Born and Raised or go on tour – another upcoming throat operation will force him to take a second break. “Now, the album has to speak for itself,” he told Rolling Stone.That shouldn’t be a problem. As Mayer himself writes, he’s got us “swaying right along to the song in [his] heart.”
Album rating: 4.5/5
Top tracks: “Shadow Days,” “Born and Raised,” “Face to Call Home,” “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test”, “Something Like Olivia”
By Sophia Loffreda
Follow me on twitter @sloffreda