After the continued success of his last album, “Battle Studies”, John Mayer’s latest release has been one long anticipated. After cancelling his US tour back in March, fans were heavily disappointed to learn that they would not be hearing any new tracks of the upcoming album until it’s official release.
Now that it’s finally here, it’s apparent that the three years spent away did the mellow-sounding singer some good. Not only is he back with “Born and Raised”, he’s back better, for the most part, and seemingly not only more thoughtful, but more regretful in his lyrics than ever.
The opening track, “Queen of California” sets the tone for a more upbeat, positive song than we’re used to hearing from Mayer. Traditionally, the singer/songwriter has struck and captivated hearts with his talents on an acoustic guitar; I’ll be honest, this is what I expected this time around, as well. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he was able to branch out and create not only synthesized harmonies, but also an accompanying piano that sets the bar high. It also does an excellent job of incorporating the less-rock-more-bluegrass sound that encompasses the majority of the record. An excellent choice to redeem himself from any past mistakes, to say the least.
By a long shot, my favorite track is “Shadow Days,” which acted as the only pre-released single for the album. It brings back the heavy guitars and mellow sound that deemed Mayer such a star to begin with. With lyrics reading “I’m a good man with a good heart/Had a tough time, got a rough start,” I can’t help but wonder if maybe, this time around, we’re seeing a not so classic Mayer. He seems humbled, writing melodies that hope these “shadow days are over.” There’s definite growth within the track, but it keeps a familiar, airy sound that’s eventually joined by what appears to be a regretful reflection.
Suddenly, Mayer is a bit more vulnerable than before, and perhaps more likeable that way, as well.
The album’s title track provides the most evidence to the bluesy sound that Mayer was chasing with this release. With quirky harmonicas and another display of mournful lyrics, it’s a standout track of just the sort of ground that he was fixated on breaking. “Born and Raised” is a simple folk song focused on whatever Mayer has come to terms with over the course of putting together this record. The guitars take a backseat on this one, instead lending the solos to the best chord of the song, the ending chord-a perfectly blended strong of voices and harmonicas.
The interesting bit about this record is that although it acts as a strong self -reflection, the lyrics also share center stage with a fair amount of narrative. “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967,” is an entire story on it’s own. Even through the powerful trumpets, one man’s experimental journey shines through. The song is laced with an original flourish; something that, again, was unexpected from Mayer this time around. All in all, the song is enjoyable, but perhaps it, title included, was a push of what was supposed to be originality and instead, just felt a little out of place.
I really do admire Mayer’s ability to try something new on this album. And although there were definite points where it appeared to be too much of a stretch, the growth and moments of realization are prominent and honorable not only in his lyrics, but musically, as well. The tremendous amount of talent on this album is obvious, but there’s something additionally appealing about someone who doesn’t need to recognize it. Here, he’s obviously found level ground. Where he hits the right points on this record (which is throughout a majority of it), Mayer really hits home.
For the first time, listeners and fans alike are given the opportunity into what Mayer has really been feeling regarding all the troublesome things he’s written about in the past. For sure, this is the closest we’ve gotten to the real Mayer since he hit the scene. Without a doubt, I welcome this maturely genuine and humbled sound, and can only hope that he continues in this direction from here on out.