Back with a Bang

MU

Born and Raised

John Mayer

Columbia, Sony Music, $ 9.99

Rating: ****

Somewhere between Continuum (2006), the gem that was his third studio album and his fifth, Born and Raised, John Mayer lost his way. He lost the bluesy soul he'd carefully peppered his earlier work with and reduced his song-writing to self-pitying laments to ex-lovers like the ones we heard in Battle Studies (2009). It's not just the music that suffered; Mayer made a mockery of himself in public, living the rockstar life without being any good at it. And then the surgery on his vocal chords put him out of the scene for two years. With this album though, he is back with memorable, hummable and honest songs.

Born and Raised begins with Queen of California, set to a James Taylor-ish vibe. It isn't exactly the best tune in the album; Mayer tips his hat to singer-songwriters Neil Young and Joni Mitchell but the song serves its purpose by setting an intimate, conversational mood for the rest of the album. The songs are lush with vintage melodies harking back to the '60s and the '70s, replete with influences from the acoustic folk scene of the era and occasionally accompanied by piano and the mouth organ. If Continuum contained tales of coming-of-age that were filled with uncertainty, Born and Raised addresses how the last few years were spent wandering, looking for answers in all the wrong places. The second track, Age of Worry, instructs you to "build your heart an army, to defend your innocence, while you do everything wrong." With Whiskey Whiskey Whiskey, (containing one of the more effective uses of the mouth organ), Mayer is clear about embracing the responsibility of being who he is, and how pretence has only left him on his knees: "Wake up, shake it off and repeat." The confessional tone is carried forward with Shadow Days: "But you find yourself alone just like you've found yourself before, like I found myself in pieces on the hotel floor." The charm of the song lies in the short but delicate piano-guitar bridge Mayer weaves into it.

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