on May 24, 2012
I'm always surrounded by people who cringe at the mere mention of John Mayer. I can't say i'm surprised when people give me the "WTF" face whenever I tell them I'm a huge fan. Admittedly, it's a little tough to get yourself past songs like Your Body Is A Wonderland or Come Back To Bed and how overly pop they are so you can enjoy his music.
As I've always said, the real heart of a musicians repertoire lies deeper in their discography. You just have to do a little digging to find the real gems and masterpieces. Nobody I know has any clue what Wheel sounds like, or that John actually covered Hendrix on Continuum, or that he has SRV tattoo'd on his arm. For years, I was the same way. I wrote John Mayer off as some ridiculous pop hack writing catchy tunes just to get the girls excited... That was until a friend brought Try! into work one night and put it in for us to listen to. While everyone else was busy lamenting on how lame it was, I was fixated. I needed to hear more, and one of the tracks that stood out the most was Gravity. I had to have Continuum. That was the album that completely changed my position on Mayer's music. I've always been a blues fan, and I had rarely heard a contemporary artist channel the blues feeling as well as John did on that album. I'm Gonna Find Another you was absolutely beautiful and a perfect nod to Peter Green's Need Your Love So Bad. I've been a huge fan and promoter of John's music ever since. I gained an even deeper respect for him after learning about his affection for Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Where The Light is was the album that truly sealed the deal for me. It's Even better that he kinda sounds like Stevie. ;)
The point being that Born and Raised is no exception. It's equally as brilliant and addictive as Continuum. Whereas on his 2006 album he was channeling and imitating the blues sound, on BaR he channels his southern rock and country chops. When you listen to the music, you taste a little Neil Young, Allman Brothers, Hank Williams and John's own flavor injection. It's a little disconcerting to know that many will write this album off because of John's reputation, but it's definitely a must listen. I don't know that I would consider any of the tracks pop station staples because most mainstream listeners won't get them, but it doesn't make them any less effective or infectious for the seasoned Mayer vet. The thing I love the most about the album is probably it's low key nature. It takes a more reserved, acoustic approach and relies less on overproduction or polishing and instead relies on feeling, telling a story and sending a message. I liken the approach to what Springsteen did with Nebraska. Something about a stripped down, raw album hits home for me more than a polished, meticulously arranged album ever could.
I have to say that Walt Grace, Love Is A Verb, Queen of California and Something Like Olivia are the standouts for me. The very latter being a song I can easily see myself cranking in my 1980 TA while I roll down the highway, T-Tops off and a bandana keeping the hair out of my face. It's apparent that John has been listening to his share of Neil Young. He even makes reference to Young's After The Goldrush (another must listen for fans of southern/classic rock) on the opener Queen of California. It's actually a little funny (and ironic) that John is able to do country better on this album than most contemporary "country" musicians can (I'm talking mainstream pop radio country). Sure, he's no Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline or even Merle Haggard, but he sure sounds like he'd be right at home on stage with them, given what he's showed us on this album (please listen to the Born and Raised reprise). Queen of California reminds me of Midnight Rider. Heck, just look at the album cover. That alone is the perfect nod to classic 60s and 70s southern rock bands (I feel a heavy Marshall Tucker, Molly Hatchet and Allman Brothers vibe going on there).
I was a little skeptical to hear this album after hearing Battle Studies, but I wasn't afraid. I know what John is capable of, and even if I didn't like his previous album as much as Heavier Things or Continuum, I knew there would at least be something here I could gravitate towards. What impresses me is how complete and honest BaR feels. The most important seller for any album is its ability to connect with me on a personal level. Whether I'm looking for something that's fun or something I can relate to, that's always the deciding factor over how much i'll like an album. John has nailed the flavor, emotion and feeling he was going for with this. After my first 5 listens, the only thing I could think of was how much I wanted two of my closest friends to hear it. Walt Grace has been on repeat for 2 days running. :)
Please don't be fooled by the lack of guitar driven tracks or ooey gooey "gives me chills" solos that were abundant on Continuum. There aren't any here, and that's the point. We already know John is capable of shredding, so there's no need to demonstrate it for us again. Instead, what he's done with Born and Raised is put together an ensemble of tracks that are more suited to a relaxed, "sit on my porch with a beer and watch the rain come down" atmosphere (as songs like Speak For Me demonstrate beautifully). John is still able to display his uncanny knack for melody, harmony and killer guitar licks. Don't focus so much on how technical the guitar work sounds. Instead, focus on the mood it conveys, the ambiance it creates and ultimately what it invokes in you after you've heard it.
I don't think it's appropriate to do a track by track review of the album, because everyone interprets and experiences the music differently. I felt it was more appropriate to give you a more rounded view of how it feels as a whole. Overall, it's a little country, it's a little southern rock (If I ever get around to living sounds like Young's "Old Man"), and there are tinges of blues sprinkled throughout the album (Something Like Olivia is a standard 12 bar blues progression). Bottom line, if you're a borderline, "I don't really know if I should get this" Mayer fan, rest assured you won't be disappointed. It's no mistake that he was able to convince Guys like Graham Nash and David Crosby to record with him here. They know as well as guys like Clapton know that John is the real deal. This is definitely one of those albums you want to have a physical copy of because it is that good. A huge improvement over Battle Studies and a worthy contender to Continuum. I'll be listening to this for years to come and defining pieces of my life on the songs therein. That's the true sign of a classic.