Born and Raised
John Mayer reportedly said he wanted his fifth studio album to evoke a cowboy sitting on the open range, strumming his guitar by the fire. Luckily for him, this album does exactly that- it’s a gently rocking ode to country blues and Americana, a confessional and somewhat apologetic record.
Born and Raised is like car ride through the American outback, and Mayer has even picked up a few hitchhikers along the way, such as David Crosby and Graham Nash, who lend their distinctive brand of harmonies to the title track.
It opens with the sunny acoustic lick of Queen of California, which layers pedal steel guitars with pianos in a swelling country rock number. It’s a comfortable beginning, but things soon get flipped with the strange tones of Age of Worry– an orchestral ode to self-acceptance.
Shadow Days brings it back to the ranch with tangy slide guitar sequences and Mayer begging forgiveness and telling us that he’s: “Had a tough time/ Got a rough start/ But I’ve finally learned to let it go”. Switching from self-reflection to social commentary, Speak For Me is this albums Who Says(from last record, Battle Studies), with Mayer wishing for better songs on the radio and more rock stars.
Continuing with his self-examination, the title track rings with unexpected melancholy as Mayer sings about his dreams that “Don’t fly as high as they used to”. The initial hook soon builds with a warbling harmonica solo and the dense harmonies of Crosby and Nash. The sad cowboy then sways forward with If I Ever Get Around To Living, a curious country song with elevator music undertones.
The back end of the album drifts off, the later songs not quite living up to their predecessor’s. The final track, Fool to Love You, shows that the blues is still part of his soul, a rolling wave to carry the cowboy away.
He’s done a lot of thinking in making these songs, and it shows. Recorded prior to his vocal surgery last year, his voice has a husky edge that’s not unpleasant. It’s the sentiment, and not the sound that defines these songs. The feeling of loneliness and acceptance carries through it all, as Mayer faces up to his shortcomings with his most honest and open record to date.