By Douglas Scarpa
There is a good deal of criticism for John Mayer’s new album “Born and Raised” from supposed Mayer purists.
They are calling it “country,” “slow” and “boring.” Some people have taken to the Twitter-verse and Facebook, asking for the “old” John Mayer back.
These folks couldn’t possibly be any more in the wrong. Asking for the “old” version of someone, especially a musician or artist is ridiculous. That’s what the old albums are for. They’re a time capsule.
They’re also a way to track the progression of an artist. No person stays the same, produces the same material and continues to live the way they did. No one wants that.
“Room for Squares,” Mayer’s debut, was a great acoustic album from an up-and-coming young artist. “Heavier Things” dropped and with it came a more developed sound, featuring electric guitar riffs and a big rock band feel. After a short time of experimenting with his John Mayer Trio side project, “Continuum” hit shelves. No doubt a pop album, the blues influence of Mayer favorites like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy took a prominent step into the spotlight.
What followed was “Battle Studies;” a release many critics and detractors deemed underwhelming. This represented another experiment of sorts, as it was an attempt to capture that classic California rock feel, albeit with a touch of Mayer. Maybe that was the problem many critics had, as it didn’t feel like a John Mayer album – or at least that was the general consensus.
“Continuum” was a tribute to blues, “Battle Studies” was a tribute to artists like Tom Petty, and “Born and Raised” is a tribute to folk, country and classic rock ‘n’ roll.
What “Born and Raised” proves, with its laid-back feel and folk-influences, is that John Mayer is an artist who isn’t afraid to change his whole sound on a moment’s notice.
Regardless, “Born and Raised” is definitely a different sound than John Mayer fans are used to. “Shadow Days,” the first single released on Mayer’s personal blog on Feb. 27, was the first sign that this album would be different. While it’s one of the most typical Mayer-sounding songs on the album, its influences are derived from the classic country and folk genres.
A man who was originally associated with acts like the Dave Matthews Band and Howie Day, and later tied to blues greats like Clapton and Vaughan, now finds himself walking in the shoes of Neil Young.
These influences can further be felt in songs like “Speak for Me,” with its finger-picked guitar rhythm and easy-going melodic quality, and the titular track “Born and Raised.”
The last track on the album is a reprise of “Born and Raised” again hearkening back to great folk albums of the past. Other standout tracks on the album are the opening “Queen of California,” featuring a heavy Mayer touch present in its electric guitar riffs and solo, and the story-like “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967.”
This album is not Mayer’s attempt to replicate sounds from music’s storied history. It’s his attempt to add more influences and signature sounds to his existing repertoire. The blues-rock guitar, soulful backing singers and overall pop feel are still present, but this time they’re kept a little more in the shadows, hidden by the new folk feel.
In short, “Born and Raised” is a fun and good album. It’s a different John Mayer than most are used to, but a welcome addition to his album catalog.
“Born and Raised” hits shelves and iTunes on May 22.Contact Douglas Scarpa.