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John Mayer - Born And Raised (Album Review)

Tuesday, 22 May 2012 Written by Helen Grant
John Mayer - Born And Raised (Album Review)

Following a three year musical hiatus, and with his wounds apparently healed, the "new, improved and enlightened" seven time Grammy winner John Mayer is back with 'Born and Raised' a rootsy, Memphis rejection of his foot-in-mouth past released today by Sony, that is pleasant enough, but doesn't demand repeat listening.

ImageMayer, who blamed a throat problem for the cancellation of the album's promotional Spring tour, a setback which undoubtedly means limited TV and radio plugging, spent the past few years "thinking hard about life" following a string of disparaging comments he made in interviews to Rolling Stone and Playboy about ex chicks, that were by his own admission "attention seeking garbage".

Measured with that ruler, his remorse shows in this soul searching folk-rock-bluesy effort; an undemanding album co-produced with Don Was that highlights the American's writing and guitar strumming talents. The guitar playing is actually the highlight of the album for me, quite extraordinary. The man certainly knows how to take you on a voyage through strings.

A highly personal collection of 13 tracks, 'Born and Raised' is a real salt-of-the-earth heart-on-sleeve job on his road to humility. Like Marmite; you ether love it hate it. I'm unsure which camp to veer towards, being down the middle, but forced left or right, it could grow on me.

The smoky self-penned lyrics are more mature than Mayer's first two studio albums, 'Room for Squares' and 'Heavier Things', which did a grand job commercially, achieving multi-platinum status. Unlike previous, this effort reveals a man with a conscience and new facets of the incredible song writing talent that he is renowned for.

"Now and then I pace my place / I can't retrace how I got here / I cheat and lie to check my fates / It's slightly harder than last year / And all at once it gets hard to take," John reveals with a raspy, weathered self-awareness in title track 'Born and Raised' a folk-rock-country highlight that mixes steel guitar with piano to create a vintage number, with vocals from the legendary Graham Nash and David Crosby driving into your brain until wedged there.

My initial impression of 'Queen of California' with its reference to Neil Young’s acclaimed 1970 album 'After the Gold Rush' is a lyrical nod to Jennifer Aniston, which it might well be, but John's lips are zipped.

Other highlights include the Eric Clapton-esque 'Shadow Days' which was released as a single, and my favourite of the set 'A Face To Call Home,' in which John is aided by Sara Watkins as he yearns to start a life with someone that he’s in the “getting-to-know-you” stage. The wistful 'Something Like Olivia' and bluesy 'Fool To Love You' stand out too. This is a different John to previous, but with barely a change of pitch throughout the album and no "wow that was totally awesome factor" that all musicians strive for, I struggled to sit through the relentless same-same after a while, leaving me as ecstatic as the therapist of a burnt-out rock star. But on a positive note, there is sensory stimulation in the album's artwork.

Overall, 'Born and Raised' is no grand gesture, but drastic change wouldn't fit the man. It's all very soft-rock Americana, perfect for an Autumn road trip; not all bad but a horizontal attempt to fix his "Oops I took my foot off the brake" motor mouth ways. After a whole sitting, I admit to wondering, albeit fleetingly, if Mr Mayer's remorse would have been better channelled meditating with Tibetan monks. Not quite the "seriously tasty" Rolling Stone hail it to be, but an admirable-ish effort nonetheless.

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