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John Mayer, ‘Paradise Valley’ – Album Review

John Mayer Paradise Valley
Columbia

John Mayer’s ‘Paradise Valley’ is named for a part of Montana not far from where the singer has a home. The title is not a reference to the music itself, because Mayer doesn’t sound like he’s having much fun on many of these 11 tracks. For the most part, he’s serious and introspective — and that’s not a bad thing.

While a handful of the album’s most somber tracks miss the mark, ‘Paradise Valley’ is a solid comeback effort from the singer, who initially wasn’t sure he’d ever sing again after vocal cord surgery last year. The record picks up where 2012’s ‘Born and Raised’ left off, with the guitarist drifting into Americana, folk, and country territory.

There are no obvious hit singles here, but there’s plenty to interest pop music fans, including a nice duet with girlfriend Katy Perry, a cameo by Frank Ocean, and a single that Mayer (probably) wrote about Taylor Swift. Here’s how we see the record, track-by-track.

1. ‘Wildfire’
‘Wildfire’ is a catchy, hand-clapping tune about summer fun with a new love. They share a day so memorable that it sets their worlds on fire. The twangy guitars and laid-back vibe make ‘Wildfire’ the album’s best bet for a breakout single.

2. ‘Dear Marie’
The effects of Mayer’s vocal surgery are evident on ‘Dear Marie,’ which finds the singer hitting low notes he wouldn’t have been able to reach in the past. It’s a gripping tale in which Mayer reminisces about high school love and wonders what his long-lost girlfriend thinks when she sees him today in a magazine. He laments, “From time to time, I go looking for your photograph online / Some county judge in Ohio is all I ever find.

3. ‘Waitin’ on the Day’
‘Waitin’ on the Day’ is one of the sleepiest songs on the record. An electric guitar solo livens things up a bit, but at nearly five minutes long, this one drags on too long.

4. ‘Paper Doll’
The lead single ‘Paper Doll’ is pretty obviously about Mayer’s ex, Taylor Swift. He references the woman behind the hit song ‘22’ when he sings, “You’re like twenty-two girls in one / And none of them know what they’re runnin’ from / Was it just too far to fall / For a little paper doll.” It’s unclear whether Mayer is taking shots at T-Swizzle or offering an olive branch, since the song’s gentle, forlorn melody feels more like an apology than an attack, but either way, it makes for fascinating listen. [Listen Here]

5. ‘Call Me the Breeze’
Mayer finds a happy medium somewhere between country and blues on the up-tempo ‘Call Me the Breeze,’ a song first recorded by the late J.J. Cale in 1972. “Cool!,” Mayer exclaims as the song fades out. We agree.

6. ‘Who You Love’ Feat. Katy Perry
Mayer has declared his relationship with Perry a private matter, but on ‘Who You Love’ he gets confessional about his love for the ‘Roar’ singer, and the result is the album’s standout track. “My girl, she ain’t the one that I saw coming / Sometimes I don’t know which way to go / And I tried to run before, but I’m not running anymore,” Mayer sings sweetly. Perry contributes nice harmony vocals and the most soulful verse we’ve ever heard from her. [Listen Here]

7. ‘I Will Be Found (Lost at Sea)’
A sad piano ballad, ‘I Will Be Found’ is a tale of loneliness with a ray of optimism, as Mayer repeats the song title over and over. Unfortunately, it’s one of the more bland tracks on the record.

8. ‘Wildfire’ Feat. Frank Ocean
The second ‘Wildfire’ bears no similarity to the album’s opening track of the same name. This one features Frank Ocean crooning over a sparse piano and guitar arrangement. The only thing wrong with the track is its brevity – at just 90 seconds long, it’s merely a tease.

9. ‘You’re No One ‘Til Someone Lets You Down’
Over honky tonk guitars, Mayer offers up a universal anthem for the dumped and insists that being let down is an important part of life. “There’s so much to adore in a heart that is blue,” he sings. We’re not sure if we agree, but we do adore the track.

10. ‘Badge and Gun’
Give me my badge and gun / Give me the road that I must run / Give me that peaceful, wandering free I used to know,” Mayer sings on a track about restlessness that doesn’t stand out.

11. ‘On the Way Home’
Mayer closes out the album by working acoustic guitar, steel guitar and harmonica into a catchy song with a rollicking chorus. ‘On the Way Home’ is another quality track on what is one of Mayer’s most consistent albums.

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