Over the years, singer/songwriter John Mayer has dipped his toes into several genres, with his music touching on pop/rock, R&B, blues, and now…1970’s country/folk?
Yep. Apparently so.
Born and Raised, Mayer’s newest studio album, carries all the hi-fi production value you’d expect from a recording made in 2012, but most of the songs themselves sound like they could have been written 30 years ago. Furthermore, the arrangements are fairly stripped down, often with no more than four instruments playing. This record is an apparent tip-o’-the-hat to the folky rock vibe of the 1970s, reminiscent of acts like The Band and America. Mayer isn’t even subtle about it—he makes a direct lyrical reference to Neil Young in the opening track “Queen of California,” and he taps icons David Crosby and Graham Nash for BGVs on the title track. The record seems to be a combined attempt to pay homage to that bygone era, and an attempt on Mayer’s part to position himself among that pantheon of great singer-songwriters.
But at the same time, Born and Raised comes off as paradoxically humble. It seems that Mayer has chosen this country-folk backdrop to present some of his most personal, reflective (and confessional?) lyrics to date.
The career-endangering fiasco of John Mayer’s 2010 interview with Playboy, in which he ungraciously (and crudely) dished on his past high-profile romantic interests—not to mention dropping the “n” word—is still very fresh in the minds of many. Mayer seems acutely aware of this, and his lyrics frequently reflect a more subdued, even penitent, John Mayer—a man who’s perhaps had a little time to think, and re-think. Add to that the ongoing issues with Mayer’s vocal chords, and you have a perfect recipe for an attitude adjustment. Never is this more apparent than in the song “Shadow Days” (the most country-sounding song on the record), in which Mayer sings, “Did you know that you could be wrong and swear you’re right?” He continues, “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.” Without blatantly addressing specific issues, the entire album plays as a sort of apology.
So different is the overall tone of Born and Raised from some of Mayer’s previous work that some have already begun questioning whether this is a heartfelt penitence, or just something contrived for the need of the moment. Only Mayer knows for certain; at the very least, this record reflects what should have been said at this point in Mayer’s life and public career. And confessionals aside, from a musical standpoint, this is a master work, in that John Mayer has adapted stylistically to the country/folk genre without compromising his own soulful sound. Combining the reflective lyric with skillful songwriting and musicianship, Born and Raised is a breath of fresh air.
ALBUM RATING: 4.5 Stars (out of five)