Mayer grows up with ‘Born & Raised’
After multiple delays due to a nasty bout with granuloma, John Mayer’s fifth studio album, Born & Raised debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Mayer is known for his shifts in musical sound. Born & Raised is Mayer’s attempt at a ‘70s folksy-cowboy-acoustic sound with lyrics that reveal a more mature and reflective artist in comparison to Mayer’s playboy reputation that has a tendency of getting him into trouble.
The first single, “Shadow Days,” has haunting lyrics that reference Mayer’s personal growth and maturity over the past two years, after a pair of interviews he gave generated a lot of bad press. Lyrics like, “I’m a good man with a good heart, had tough time got a rough start, but I’ve finally learned to let it go,” show that he’s moving on from an immature and darker past, and he reassures listeners that his “shadow days are over.”
“Queen of California” kick-starts the album with a catchy acoustic guitar riff and a subtle, yet driving kick-drum beat that make you want to roll down your windows, put your shades on, turn the music up and just drive. Which is fitting as Mayer sings, “I’m heading out west with my headphones on, boarding a flight with a song in the back of my soul that no one knows.” This could have made a fitting first single, because it sets the folk tone for most of the album.
The musical journey continues with “The Age of Worry.” At first listen, it’s easy to get lost in just the music and Mayer’s overlapping harmony of “oohs,” but when giving the lyrics a closer listen, they can be quite powerful. “Don’t be scared to walk alone, don’t be scared to like it. There’s no time that you must be home, so sleep where darkness falls,” Mayer sings. These lyrics that are sure to resonate with anyone uncertain of what comes next.
Songs like “Something Like Olivia” and “A Face to Call Home” are quintessential John Mayer tracks. This definitely is not a bad thing, he’s good at what he does and he knows it. His definitive grooves and infectious guitar solos are clearly identifiable in “Olivia” and accompanied by a soulful keyboard sound played by Chuck Leavell, who has worked The Allman Brothers, The Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton to name a few.
“A Face to Call Home” could be described as the “Split Screen Sadness” or “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” of Born & Raised. Stirring, heart breaking, but comforting in a hold-my-pillow-crying-waiting-to-find-love sort of way, with lyrics like “You know my paper heart, the one I filled with pencil marks. I think I might have gone and inked you in.”
The title track has a very Neil Young-esqe sound and the lyrics seem tell a story of personal letdown, “I still have dreams, they’re not the same. They don’t fly as high as they used to…Then all at once it gets hard to take, it gets hard to fake what I won’t be. ‘Cause one of these days I’ll be born and raised and it’s such a waste to grow up lonely.” The sound of the acoustic guitar alongside the harmonica, piano and background vocals are beautifully chilling. Mayer even touches on the recent divorce of his parents singing, “I still got time, I still got faith. I call on both of my brothers. I got a mom I got a dad. But they do not have each other.” The track also features David Crosby and Graham Nash of folk rock group Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
Mayer’s more sensitive, and maybe even romantic side, shines through on both “Love is a Verb” and “Fool to Love You.” Mayer’s smooth vocals on “Love is a Verb” with a subtle electric guitar and piano make this a future wedding song contender. “Fool to Love You” is equally romantic in a quirky way with lyrics like, “It takes a fool to love you and I’m just the fool for you.” The sound of “Fool” is more raw than “Love is a Verb” in a way that if you close your eyes you can almost picture Mayer and his band sitting in front of you.
Arguably one of the most surprising songs on the album is “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967.” The story of the man who “took a homemade fan-blade one-man submarine ride” is so intriguing it practically commands you to listen to the story. The militant-sounding snare almost alludes to a sad ending and a beat to which Mayer sings about Walt Grace’s need for quiet and solitude.
Overall, Mayer once again impresses as he experiments with the folk rock sound. Fans looking for the usually electric-guitar-riff-happy Mayer may not enjoy this piece of work, which is hard to believe. Unfortunately, the granuloma in Mayer’s throat has returned and he cannot tour for the next year. The fact that without any real promotion the album has reached #1 speaks volume of not only his talent, but also his fans’ belief in his talent and ability to pursue new musical interests. Born & Raised seems to prove that Mayer is a true artist who has nearly no musical boundaries, and with such reflective and personal lyrics this could be an album referenced for generations to come.