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Review: John Mayer, 'Born and Raised'

John Mayer Born and Raised ★ ★ ★ ★

Posted 8:10am on Friday, May. 25, 2012

Singer-songwriter John Mayer spends much of Born and Raised — less a retreat than a recalibration — seeking salvation in the ’70s.

To be exact, Mayer, 34, wraps himself in the warm tones, mellow country-folk melodies and handmade feel of classic records from artists like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Bob Dylan.

Yet rather than simply re-create the sounds of the period, Mayer and producer Don Was use that time as a filter for Mayer’s well-honed pop-rock-blues sensibility. Graham Nash and David Crosby even provide backing vocals.

Of course, the mellow compositions are themselves a reaction to Mayer’s public relations meltdown two years ago, when provocative (and racially charged) comments made to Playboy magazine forced the musician to abandon Twitter, publicly apologize to fans — and offer mea culpas to ex-girlfriends Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Aniston.

That unfortunate episode was compounded earlier this year, when a health scare — a recurring vocal malady known as granuloma — sidelined the musician, forcing the cancellation of an 18-city tour.

It didn’t take a few trips through the wringer for Mayer to realize the value of speaking his mind, however. He has always been a forthright witness to the romantic condition, albeit one singled out as a punching bag for the hipster set.

Mayer remains an effective, even elegant chronicler of his personal journey, and plenty aware of his faults — “I think you better wise up, boy,” he warns himself on If I Ever Get Around to Living; Whiskey Whiskey Whiskey evokes the depths of late, booze-fueled nights in a cruel city — deftly playing against his public image as a smart-aleck guitar prodigy incapable of more than pop fluff.

It’s these undercurrents of anxiety, melancholy and romantic longing that give Born and Raised the most depth of any record in Mayer’s catalog. Although he has hinted at such turmoil in the past, this album faces the shortcomings head-on, admitting it’s time to quit dodging difficult moments.

The rocky road to Mayer’s Born and Raised imparted some hard-won lessons for the gifted troubadour, but also provided one of the year’s best records in the bargain.

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