This post has been coming for quite some time. The end of last year, in fact, when my life was totally different (well, I had one fewer child, anyway).
At the end of August 2013, John Mayer released his sixth studio album, Paradise Valley. I’ll admit two things about the music of John Mayer. One: I’m a secret admirer of the music of John Mayer, have been since the days when his only fans were 12-year-old girls. Two: I’ve not been in love with each album on a first listen, especially his most recent three, and even heading back to his 2005 live album, Try! I came around on Try!, and I came around on Battle Studies (2009), but by 2012’s Born and Raised I thought, this is it, John Mayer has fallen off for me.
Mayer, always one step ahead, gave me a glimpse of things to come with Born and Raised. At the time I wasn’t quite ready for a shift to folk/roots music from an artist I was reluctant to accept as a rocker six or seven years ago. (He’d got me to accept bubble gum, then blues-rock, now this? Too much.) It wasn’t until I heard Paradise Valley, which spoke to me on a second listen, that I began to understand Born and Raised, an album I’d completely dismissed after two or three rundowns. One of Mayer’s early numbers, yet recorded on a commercial album, is titled “This Will All Make Perfect Sense One Day.” Indeed.
Paradise Valley‘s cover shows Mayer, the Western rancher, alone on the high plains of Montana. The music portrays the mood better than this image. A man with a lot of city baggage, heading west, shedding the baggage for his guitar, his dog, and a new outlook on life. Corny? Cliche? Not if you’re sincere, and Mayer pulls it off. Mayer, in his real life, had in fact gone through some rough patches: girl stuff, medical stuff, some PR blunders, and had in fact moved to a Montana ranch. Out of the spotlight, Mayer, I think, was able to concentrate on music and on real life, not the often fake world of pop or rock. Born and Raised does it pretty well. Paradise Valley does it perfectly. Kudos.
Helped, of course, by some of the best in the game (Chuck Leavell and Don Was to name two), the album’s music his all the right chords. Even Katy Perry sounds less silly than usual, and of course, Mayer’s guitar playing is both instantly recognizable and perfectly indicative of mood. He can even make his ax sound funny when necessary.
No radio hits here, no platinum singles, just a really good album meant to be listened all the way through. Maybe it’s advice for your future, maybe it’s a description of where you are now, or maybe, as it is for me, it’s a description of where you’ve been, and how far you’ve come.
I’ve been to my Paradise Valley. Lived there when I had to, sorted some things out, then came back home. Home now is where I like to be. Mortgage, wife, baby: that’s the home I like now. I would’ve never believed it five years ago, yet here I am. I guess you never know. Just that you hope one day it all makes perfect sense.