ALBUM REVIEW: John Mayer’s ‘Born and Raised’ is soft pop with a country twist
Not content with soft-pop, alternative rock, jazz-edged blues and Hendrix covers, John Mayer’s recently-released “Born and Raised” extends the Georgia guitarist’s profile toward country.
You have to wonder if this really is the same man that gave us “Say” and “Heartbreak Warfare.”
As a whole package, the album does well. Mayer doesn’t make the mistake of writing a split-personality album that includes his old edgy sound (although without a doubt there are fans out there with fresh B&R copies wondering where it’s hiding). We’re left with a mellow album that’s something like Jack Johnson meets Jimmy Buffet.
Some of the tracks are country through and through. The title track, “Born and Raised,” is a standard slow country tune complete with steel guitar, telecaster tone and a plodding upright bass. While “Queen of California” showcases Mayer’s ability to write catchy riffs, it has the same even-eighths feel, and leaves listeners with the impression that although it’s the same Mayer behind the work, it’s a new sound.
Often, though, the album’s Nashville tone is only liner-deep. While Born and Raised’s saloon-style album art and Mayer’s cowboy-hat interview with Jimmy Fallon may make his fans think he’s turned country, his roots are still undeniable, giving us some of the old John Mayer with the new.
“Something Like Olivia” begins with a snappy Stratocaster riff and features a blues solo that’s neither overproduced nor overdone, punctuated with electric organ work. “Fool for You” feels the same way; harmonica and acoustic guitar blend for a sound that’s tone can stand next to Mayer’s blues work and act like it’s from Memphis, even if the rest of the album is dressed like it’s from Nashville.
“Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967” is a great example of that intersection. It has telecaster riffs, even-eighths drumming, and a can-do theme about building a submarine at home for the country fans. It starts with a free-improvisation trumpet solo and features a smooth piano texture courtesy of Chuck Leavell, an Alabama keyboardist who’s played with Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones.
“Born and Raised” sounds an awful lot like different parts of the same song. What’s more, the album as a whole relies much more on mood pieces than it does on raw musicianship.
Overall, Mayer’s work is a brave step for an established artist. Not content in his genre, he moves toward a new one. That process has given us a glimpse of the breadth of the musical palette he can paint with when he deigns to take the risk
Born and Raised
May 22, 2012
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