John Mayer is back and ready to redeem himself. Mayer knows he's talented. We can all agree on that. But what sets Born and Raised apart from John Mayer's other works is that he's finally humble to his talent. In this record, Mayer is genuinely regretful for his past arrogance and has receded to making music simply because it makes him happy.
Set for American release on May 22, 2012, Born and Raised is a far more bluegrass record than anything he has released to date. After his fall from grace a couple of years ago, John Mayer managed to successfully keep hidden away from the public eye to create one of his most sincere collections of music. The composition for this album is broken down to its bare bones. Recorded primarily in Electric Lady Studios in New York City, Born and Raised takes a more emotional turn, revealing a vulnerable Mayer in 12 tracks of varying poignancy.
The opening chords of "Queen of California" sound like they're sampled from a James Taylor song. Acoustic, light and airy, and also layered and cheery, the opening seconds to the entire album are blissful. The instrumentals and arrangement of this song are mesmerizing. John Mayer, in his previous works, had proved himself in this rite, but he truly does a beautiful job arranging "Queen of California." The various guitars, pianos, added vocals and synthetic beats melt into one another like they were meant to sound this way. As an opening track for his new album, John Mayer sets the bar really high for the remainder of the record. With the tempo of the song and the progression of the instruments, the bluegrass and bluesy underpinnings of Born and Raised come to life. If "Queen of California" is re-released as a single, it would surely do extremely well.
With Born and Raised's only pre-released single "Shadow Days," Mayer claims that his "shadow days are over now," presumably replaced by positivity and "love [he] can finally feel." "Shadow Days" is full of really intense guitar solos, taking advantage of John Mayer's insane ability to completely control a guitar to make it sound like whatever the hell he wants it to. Indicative of the rest of the album's sound, this single showcases the bluegrass tendencies of Mayer, mixing meaningful soul into superb music. "Shadow Days" sounds like classic "John Mayer" with a twist of serious regret for past actions. "Shadow Days" peaked at #42 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #49 on the Canadian Hot 100 and managed to snag some charting positions in the Netherlands and Denmark.
"Something Like Olivia" sounds a lot like "Crossroads" from 2009's Battle Studies. A relatively more acoustic version of the 2009 hit, "Something Like Olivia" has rhythmic spunk and a pep in its step. Mayer uses a hint of church organs in the background to add to the soul component in this track. Between repeating the words, "Something Like Olivia," providing his own backup vocals, and singing in spaced bouts of emphasis, the track could really pass for a church hymn.
The title track to the album, "Born and Raised," is the most bluesy of all the songs on the album. Harmonica is a key instrument in this song, and John Mayer's vocals are intentionally shaky, raw and remorseful. One of the lines, "hard to fake what I won't be" sums up the whole album's theme: John Mayer is fixing himself but never to the point of becoming indistinguishable.
Born and Raised is a phenomenal record. Three years after Battle Studies, John Mayer has crafted an album not only meeting the towering expectations of loyal Mayer fans but far surpassing them. The same masterful singing and songwriting skills John Mayer have become famous for have worked their magic with the addition of new sounds. Born and Raised explores a minimally different genre than his previous works, but in this case, change is not only good but more than welcome.
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