The hunky crooner who serenaded audiences with down-to-earth pop and stirring blues music is back. This time around, John Mayer has returned with folk and Americana flavors in his latest album, “Born and Raised.”
The compilation marks his fifth in the series since 2009’s “Battle Studies.” Yet, Mayer’s end product doesn’t fully meet expectations, especially with the high bar he has set in the past.
In his newest work, the theme of adolescence, jumbled with messages of relationship heartbreak and sappy, problem-induced love, run through the lines of each verse. Nevertheless, during those rare moments, his compositions take us back to the era of Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan — the classic artists who established our American roots and paved the way for today’s musical trends.
The 12-track package starts out with the mellow, “The Queen of California.” Supported by a country sound and complemented with soft, pastoral guitar chords, the song gives its “goodbye” to the “cold” and “rain,” and welcomes a strange, new beauty to the town.
In “Born and Raised,” the simple harmonica intro and the hippy-influenced breaks are bearable at best. The lyrics do poignantly paint fleeting moments in life within phrases such as, “I cheat the light to check my face, / It’s such a waste to grow up lonely, / And show your face to the morning.”
Although “Something Like Olivia” exhibits a good beat, accented by a sharp drum snare and feel-good tone, the lyrics are cringe worthy with Mayer’s insertion of excuses, such as “Now I’m not trying to steal / No love away from no one man,” only to end with “But if Olivia herself were at my door / I’d have to say I’d let her in.” Even his song “Fool to Love You” falls prey to cheesy lines despite its impressive harmony.
Tracks like “Speak For Me” fail to be successful. Its lackluster composition makes it appear as if it was a boring rant and makes you wonder where Mayer’s tender vocals and honest, soul-aching content have gone.
Nevertheless, some of Mayer’s numbers show an attempt to offer something fresh in his music.
Probably one of the more original tracks in the album is “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967.” Opening with a jazzy sax solo and segueing into a ’60s feel, the song is inventive and has fun with the lyrical content. Touching upon what may be Mayer’s wishful childhood fantasy, it weaves the story of a man’s trial of creating his one-man submarine ride “with the will to work hard … a library card” and a “homemade fan blade,” despite his wife telling “his kids he was crazy” and his friends’ responses that “he’d fail if he tried.”
Still, Mayer retains a smudge of his well-known style in two songs. Sounding more like his past self in “Love is a Verb,” he presents a sleek fusion of the classic and electric guitar. As for “Shadow Days,” Mayer treats fans with an echo of his older tunes through the addition of clean pop elements, which include a blend of guitar riffs and a comforting country melody.
For those who aren’t into Mayer’s newest work, you will probably be pining for the hits he’s known for, as well as his former musical style. Yet, through the help of his lyrics, coupled with memorable beats, Mayer captures the heart of Americana and folk music through projecting his eloquent point across to listeners.
Rating: 3 out of 5