Sound — 8
John Mayer is an odd individual as his musical history has shown him try his hand at pop, blues, collaborating with hip hop artists, etc. He began his career with the release of "Room for Squares" in 2001, and his career just kind of took off with a vengeance. Since then he started the John Mayer Trio, which was his "blues only" band separate from his solo work, and has worked with a multitude of other artists across many genres. His reputation took a serious hit with some of his break ups with other celebrities taking place in the public eye, especially when he shared personal stories about the celebrities he had dated in interviews. After a breakup with Taylor Swift she wrote the song "Dear John" which John Mayer publicly took offense to and responded with calling the song poor songwriting. Personally, I wonder if his reported anxiety issues along with his admitted use of anti-anxiety medications explain some of his crazier remarks. After the release of John Mayer's last album, "Born and Raised," there were whisperings that his vocal career was over due to medical issues with his voice but since that time there was an additional surgery and after recovery he is now able to sing once again.
"Paradise Valley" is John Mayer's sixth full length studio album and contains 11 tracks clocking in at a little under 40 minutes. As a change from his last album, there is much more focus on guitar and the songwriting seems to have much more going on. While the album remains laid back it feels more laid back in the way that Eric Clapton sounds laid back. The album opens up with the track "Wildfire" which has clapping, stomping and a tambourine as percussion and otherwise fairly minimal with some guitars and voice. The track "Dear Marie" is an acoustic track which kind of comes across as a more melancholy "Hey There, Delilah" and seems to be written about wondering what his high school girlfriend thinks about him when she sees him in magazines. "Waiting on the Day" is another acoustic track and probably the closest track on the album kind of reaching back to John's earlier pop-oriented music. The track "Paper Doll" is supposedly John Mayer's response to Taylor Swift's "Dear John," and it mostly escapes being a petty broken-heart song. Next up, there is a cover of "Call Me the Breeze," which definitely isn't a bad cover and captures the same vibe as the original. "Who You Love" is a duet with John Mayer's current love interest, Katy Perry. There is a second and much shorter version of "Wildfire" later on the album, but this time more minimal and with Frank Ocean on lyrics. The track "You're No One 'Til Someone Lets You Down" sounds like a leftover track from "Born and Raised," with a heavy country blues feel to it (the lap steel is back!). "Badge and Gun" is an acoustic fingerstyle track with its main strength being some fairly strong songwriting. The album closes out with the track "On the Way Home," and while the lap steel is still getting a little use, it isnt dominating the track.
Lyrics — 7
When I reviewed John Mayer's last album I thought I would be reviewing the last album that he performed his own vocals, but he surprised me and after another surgery recovered his vocals. I still feel like he is very similar to Dave Matthews, vocally. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is always what I think about when I'm listening to John Mayer, and possibly why I always feel like his music is "college music." The vocal performance on the album doesn't expose anything to complain about. As a sample of the vocals, here are some lyrics from the track "Wildfire": "River's strong/ you can't swim inside it/ we could string up some lights/ up the hill beside it/ tonight the moon's so bright you could drive with your headlights out/ cause a little bit of summer is what the whole year is all about/ you look fine fine fine/ put your feet up next to mine/ we can watch that borderline get higher and higher/ say say say/ ain't it been some kind of day/ you and me been catching on like wildfire."
Overall Impression — 8
"Paradise Valley" surprised me; after hearing John Mayer's last album, this isn't what I expected this time around. While there are a few tracks that sound a little like throwbacks to "Born and Raised," the majority of the songs definitely have their own thing going on and are well worth the listen. My favorite track s on the album are the first version of "Wildfire," John's cover of "Call Me the Breeze" and the track "Badge and Gun." My least favorite track on the album is "You're No One 'Til Someone Lets You Down" because it has more of that mopey country blues sound to it which I honestly don't care to hear from John Mayer. Looking at the album as a whole and comparing it to his previous albums, I feel like this is a really strong effort and possibly his best album to date, though it doesn't seem like it is "radio hit"-ready. I would like to see in what direction John Mayer goes the next time around.