Paradise Valley Album Review
Released August 20, 2013
Genre: Folk Rock, Country Rock, Southern Rock, Blues, Americana
Acoustic Pop/Rock Singer John Mayer returns smoothly with Paradise Valley, his sixth studio album that features a more country rock, Americana sound. With this album, Mayer doesn’t shift too subtly stylistically from his 2012 release, Born and Raised but continues to shift from his previous works. For most of his albums, John Mayer’s style revolves around warm and gentle catchy rock tunes that bring out the grace in his poignant melodies.
On this album, guest singers Katy Perry and Frank Ocean provide more depth into the overall style and sound of this album. However, Mayer keeps things pretty calm and still as if he’s a washed up star living in a rural town in the country. Sounds kinda of like Crazy Heart‘s “Bad Blake” right? Anyway, back on topic Mayer now lives in a strong romantic relationship with pop singer Katy Perry, is thriving off the success of his Born and Raised tour, and is staying out of the public eye for now, basking in the luxuries of life and at this point delivers a meaningful but reflective album.
The track “Dear Marie” really sounds like something off of Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky (which is an incredibly great influence to this album IMO) as he sings about his past high school girlfriend, his croon on “Badge and Gun” is delivered breezy and smooth, while “Wildfire” really brings the groove and rhythm to the album. His cover of JJ Cale’s “Call Me The Breeze” brings out his bluesy side as a nice homage to the blues rock genre. On the track “Who You Love”, Katy Perry brings out her rock side as she abandons synth heavy pop for nice soft rock vocals, which really shows how her voice can adjust to another genre (a soft rock album in her future perhaps?).
The album abandons the Born and Raised harmonica for vintage electric guitar hooks, sweet harmonies, and nice glossed over drumming, bringing out the skill of this album through the stellar production from Don Nas (Bob Dylan, Ziggy Marley) who also produced Mayer’s Born and Raised as well. The charm and wit of this album become evident through Mayer’s lyrics and varied instrumentation. The maturity of the lyrics is another bright spot on this album. Again on the track ‘Who You Love’, the line “you can’t stop yourself from dreaming of the one you’re dreaming of” is a much better way of expressing your love then “your body is a wonderland”. All in all, the style of the songs is very focused and straightforward and relaxed.
However, there are a few things on this album that are too relaxed. Such as his track with Frank Ocean, “Wildfire (pt. 2?)”. The track features a duet between the two with organ chords glazed and strung along in the background. On an album that needs MORE momentum to drive the carefree, breezy feel of it all and keep it interesting, the track brings the momentum down as it slowly stretches the minute and a half track to a long, long tune which honestly isn’t really that interesting and only showcases both of their amazing voices and then it ends abruptly, so it’s kind of downer. Another aspect that I didn’t really feel was a strong spot was the dull delivery of the lyrics (albeit some). For an album that lacks passionate vocal delivery (which drove Mayer’s previous work), it needs to make up in strength and momentum, which “Wildfire pt. 2” does not supply.
Like my Crazy Heart analogy I said earlier, it just sounds like Mayer is just sitting in a rocking chair, on his porch, with grass in his mouth, singing to the mic at 2:30 in the afternoon or just standing in the middle of a field, singing into nowhere. His vocal delivery lacks the strong passion and heart he gave on previous albums like Room for Squares or Continuum, the passion that made it enjoyable. Now it’s not extremely lazy but somewhat different from his previous works. On a reflective album like this, a characterless singer is something that makes it less memorable.
There’s a lot of country rock, Americana influences on this album and that is evident to where Mayer is becoming comfortable with his music as it continues from Born and Raised as any trace of his acoustic pop days are almost gone. He plays the instrumentation and lyrics safe but excusing the characterless vocal delivery and lazy energy, the album becomes enjoyable and makes for good road trip music. Maybe even music one might listen to out in the country, where Mayer is apparently comfortable in. In his relaxed, breezy rural paradise is where Mayer basks and he’s ready to settle down.
PRETTY NEAT MUSIC
FAV TRACKS: Wildfire, Who You Love (feat. Katy Perry), Waitin’ On The Day, Badge and Gun, Dear Marie,
LEAST FAV TRACK: Wildfire (feat. Frank Ocean)