Mayer's voice sounds stronger than ever after throat surgery – honeyed and warming.
John Mayer: Paradise Valley
“From time to time I go looking for your photograph online / but some kind of judge in Ohio is all I ever find,” sings the Connecticut-born singer-songwriter John Mayer on Dear Marie, one of many fine songs on his sixth album, Paradise Valley. It’s a choice example of his knack for the everyman (or woman) lyric, for who among us hasn’t Googled a childhood sweetheart whose whereabouts we no longer know?
It’s also just possible that Dear Marie and the wistful, piano-led I Will Be Found – “I’m a little lost at sea / I’m a little birdie in a big old tree” – reflect an artist who has grown especially tired of the media circus that surrounds him. For the paparazzi, the lure isn’t Mayer’s 20 million album sales and seven Grammy awards – it’s his trail of celebrity girlfriends; a long list that includes Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston and his current partner, Katy Perry.
Though Mayer has sometimes seemed complicit in the drama, you have to admire his staying power and quality-controlled productivity. Produced by the trusted aid Don Was (The Rolling Stones; Van Morrison), Paradise Valley comes hot on the heels of 2012’s Born and Raised – and this despite Mayer undergoing two rounds of throat surgery.
If anything, his voice sounds stronger than ever here; honeyed and warming on the joyous, Afro-guitar-infused opener Wildfire, and perfectly weighted on the smooth pop soul of Who You Love, a duet with Perry that finds her raising her game, then spoiling things a little by dissolving into a hammy, coquettish laugh that seems designed to seduce radio pluggers.
But this is a mere peccadillo, and there’s very little to gripe about here. Waitin’ on the Day and Badge and Gun boast the easy classicism of a capable songwriter and Frank Ocean’s lead vocal on bijou poem Wildfire (two songs here share that title) is a treat.
It’s Paper Doll, however, that will likely gather most gossip-column inches. “You’re like 22 girls in one / and none of them know what they’re running from,” sings Mayer in another Afro-pop-flavoured nugget. Some have suggested this is a response to Dear John, a song by another of Mayer’s exes, the country singer Taylor Swift.
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