John Mayer's career seems to ebb and flow. The always-successful singer/songwriter and guitarist has changed his tune over the course of his 13-year career. Beginning as a soft rock god, Mayer has developed in to a mature, rootsy artist, focusing more on classic American music and folk rock. His sixth studio album, "Paradise Valley," released on Tuesday, Aug. 20, is a reflection of this.
Full of down home and raw feelings, slide guitars and quiet vocals, "Paradise Valley" can be seen as an extension of 2012's "Born & Raised," in a way.
Opening track and second single "Wildfire" sets the stage for this. In the first few seconds, twangy guitars and a stomping clap-driven beat establish the setting for the album. "Wildfire" is hard to resist. Its singsong melody is easily stuck in a listener's head. Light piano adds additional layers to the track and pull in the some of the soft rock influence that old Mayer fans may be more comfortable with.
Blending together country and folk with Mayer's own traditional sound is a pattern on "Paradise Valley." Song No. 2 "Dear Marie" asks if an old love from high school still thinks of Mayer when she sees him "in a magazine." It's a highly self aware and personal spin on his fame, in a way little seen from major musicians. The soft song, with light time-keeping drum taps and fancy finger work on the guitar, is a sure stand out.
The country-fried, traditional Americana vibe on "Paradise Valley" is best executed by "You're No One 'Til Someone Lets You Down." Consisting of a slide guitar and deep vocals from Mayer, the song is a foot-tapping good time based in blues, particularly in regards to the generally relatable lyrics.
But that doesn't mean everything is shiny and new on this record. Lead single "Paper Doll" is the most traditional Mayer song on "Paradise Valley." Likely addressing his ex-girlfriend Taylor Swift and her song "Dear John," the track's retaliatory lyrics ask, "You're like 22 girls in one / And nobody knows what you're running from / Was it just too far to fall / For a little paper doll?" The softly song words and drippy guitars recall some of Mayer's earliest singles, such as "Your Body Is A Wonderland" from his debut, "Room For Squares."
The collaborations on "Paradise Valley" cannot be ignored. Mayer brought in two big names, on-again, off-again girlfriend Katy Perry and frequent collaborator Frank Ocean. Mayer and Perry's track, "You Love Who You Love" seems to directly tackle any controversy attached to their relationship. Surprisingly, the song is one of the strongest on the record, mixing together old school and new school Mayer and featuring vocally solid Perry.
Of course, anything Ocean touches turns to gold. His short but sweet take on "Wildfire Pt. 2" feels revelatory and soulful in a way only the "Thinking About You" crooner can pull off.
Overall, "Paradise Valley" is another strong effort from Mayer. Pulling together folk influences and adding his own personal musical brand, the record is sure to please old fans and bring in new listeners who may have missed out on "Born & Raised."