We’ve seen John Mayer through a lot of seasons. He’s been the acoustic singer-songwriter in his 2001 debut, Room For Squares, a talented bluesman in his 2006 release, Continuum, and even a downhome country boy with 2012’s Born & Raised, by far his most polarizing release to date. But 2013’s Paradise Valley showed us Mayer in a bit of a hybrid.
Part of why I love Born & Raised is because it exhibited growth not only in “John Mayer” the singer songwriter, but also John Mayer the person. It’s the moment he came to grips with the reality he couldn’t act like he’s still in his early-twenties when he’s in his mid-thirties. But If Born & Raised was John Mayer off in the wilderness trying to find himself then Paradise Valley is him re-entering society a more whole person.
Musically, Paradise Valley feels like the next step. If you listen to the previous release and immediately throw on this one, it feels like a double disc album. But the immediate difference between Paradise Valley and Born & Raised is accessibility. Without a doubt Born & Raised is the superior album: lyrically, the mental space he was in was uncanny, there’s not a single cover song, and it’s a bold musical direction he pulls off well. It’s the type of album you listen to, to start your journey. However, Paradise Valley, while still sharp from a musical standpoint, feels less eccentric. It’s not as good, which makes it feel more possible to replicate. Born & Raised was so good and different, I didn’t want to try to imitate it. When I heard “Dear Marie” I immediately knew I had to write a song like it. I mean, “I got my dream but you got a family?” Pure genius.
Though it’s stylistically similar to its predecessor, Paradise Valley reminds me the most of Battle Studies. There’s the blues cover, the song with co-written with an ex, and it’s not his best but it’s still a solid release. Nevertheless, it was actually one of the albums that gave me the cue to start writing again.