Release Date: May 22, 2012
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Alternative Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Blues-Rock
There have always been two John Mayers. There's John the Musician, the neo-James Taylor of "Daughters" and "No Such Thing," and the blues-guitar omnivore who can back Jay-Z and cover "Sweet Child o' Mine." Then there's John the Dude, sloshing his TMI all over TMZ, blazing a trail of famous ex-girlfriends, big-upping his supposedly racist johnson in a disastrous 2010 Playboy interview. Usually, Mayer fastidiously cordons off his music from his slash-and-burn public persona.
Taylor Swift, are you listening? Because this is the closest thing to an apology that you’re gonna get. After dumping America’s sweetheart, calling Jessica Simpson ”sexual napalm,” and dropping the N-word in Playboy, John Mayer is asking for forgiveness. Kind of. ”I’m a good man with a good heart/Had a tough time, got a rough start,” he sings on Born and Raised.
Nothing halts the momentum of a career like a few poorly chosen words to the press. Take John Mayer, who in 2009 still seemed like the quintessential modern lothario, singing sweet songs of love and seducing starlets all across Hollywood. Then at the dawn of 2010, just months after the release of his fourth album, Battle Studies, he gave an interview with Playboy where he managed to insult former and current lovers while callously dropping racial slurs, a snafu plenty difficult to survive, but its gravity was compounded when his former lover Taylor Swift wrote a nasty kiss-off "Dear John" at the end of the year, a move that effectively banished him to the outskirts of L.A.
John Mayer approaches Born and Raised like a method actor, diving headfirst into his new sound — a mix of Laurel Canyon folk and California country-rock — by growing his hair into a shaggy 1970s mane, donning a cowboy hat, and surrounding himself with credible roots musicians like Sara Watkins (who plays fiddle on “A Face To Call Home”) and David Crosby (who, along with Graham Nash, adds thick vocal harmonies to the title track). “I’m looking for the sun that Neil Young hung after the gold rush of 1971,” goes a line in the very first song, and Mayer clings to that lyric like a mission statement, moving between softly-strummed acoustic ballads (“Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey”) and uptempo, easy-riding Allman Brothers tributes (“Queen of California”) like the music industry’s newest cosmic cowboy. The playing is understated and predictably excellent, with layers of piano and pedal steel flanking Mayer’s guitar lines, and Don Was’ production sets the vintage mood perfectly.
John Mayer made a promise at his last Boston-area concert. Back in 2010, around the time he had made disparaging comments about his racial tastes in women, Mayer told the crowd at the Comcast Center that he was going to stick to singing and playing his guitar instead of letting his loose lips mouth off. Good call. We haven’t heard much from the singer-songwriter since then, but his new album makes it clear that the intervening years have been tough.
JOHN MAYER “Born and Raised” (Columbia) Infamy has its uses, and atonement has its limits. John Mayer, who has come to grips with at least one of those truths, doesn’t want to seem ungracious in the face of judgment. He wants you to know that he’s his own harshest critic, even if he can’t help saving a piece of justification for himself. Over the last two years, anyway, in the wake of a self-damaging round of publicity and a corresponding shudder of contrition, he has plumbed the depths of his broken soul, returning with lessons in song.