- Melody / Hooks
John Mayer Eric Clapton Buddy Guy
What is with New York these days? In the good old days New York gave us Hendrix, Dylan and the Velvet Bathroom. But now; now…we have Joe Bonamassa and Connecticut Yankee John Mayer. After beginning his career with acoustic material Mayer formed a trio and made a move towards blues music through collaborations with some great blues gutarists: Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Buddy Guy. God knows if it did them any good…
Who the **** is John Mayer
So who the hell is John Mayer? We’ve heard of him at Rare Star Guitars and tried to listen to the insipid Battle Studies album – lasted about 5 minutes. A quick search on Google revealed few pictures of Mayer with his guitar. Very suspicious. Maybe we were right in thinking that Mayer was the Valley girl’s choice over the gritty guitar slinger muscle of Detroit’s Mr. Jack White.
Clapton Guitar Riffs
Mayer also released nu-soul, TV friendly hit smash,”Waiting on the World to Change”. There’s a detailed analysis on Wikipedia about what the song means – lack of action from “our” generation, a lack of power, yeah sure, it’s about something – but it isn’t exactly Bob Dylan. Most noticeably Mayer has made plenty of mileage as a guitarist through stealing an explicitly styled arsenal of Eric Clapton’s 1970’s guitar riffs. All of them. And here they are.
Born and Raised – or braised and bored?
So onto Born and Raised which resurrects virtually every laid back cliche from the soft rock effusive glow of the 1970’s smokey country crossover lens. It’s a bit like soft porn – warm, fuzzy, nice to look at but not really hard enough to satisfy at all.
But, check out that album art. I haven’t seen anything like that since I was at the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test back in 1969. It is a fantastic piece of artwork combining a touch of the Dead, the Grateful Dead, with southern deco and the 1930’s gramophone era. Kinda steampunk hipstamatic, if you like your clockwork beards and steam-powered moustaches.
Like Joe Bonamassa, Mayer feels that chucking a reference into the first song about his record collection, Mr. Neil Young specifically, might convince everyone of his authenticity. There are flavours of watered down CSNY, echoes of Fleetwood Mac, and Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” to name a few on this opener. Why do these artists insist on this shopping list style of name-checking? aren’t they quite satisifed with being themselves yet? No, no, no. This kind of vapid plinking makes me feel cheated already.
I’m sure the Doobie Brothers had this down 30 years back. The production is great, the sounds are really smooth, but, Mayer doesn’t really have an edge though – he’s pretty circular – and I’m non-plussed already, after two minutes. The music feels non-committal, a little mass produced, plastique. It’s all so light, polite and inoffensive even Granma’s fallen asleep to it. In fact Im going to turn it off. Sorry John but, that’s all youre gonna get in this review. I’ve heard it ALL before.
The Age of Worry & Shadow Days
Okay I will press on, so you don’t have to. The Age of Worry is a rather ridiculous celtic piece dug up from the peat bog, under the pavement behind Hendrix’ Electric Lady studios in New York. It’s all over so quickly – there wasn’t anything going on anyway . For the next track Shadow Days, John cues up the country with some pedal steel and proves he digs The Allman brothers. “Hard times let me be, I am a good man with a good heart, had a tough time…a rough start.”
Oh I might just have to cry into my beer – because yes, well, lonely cowboys can cry can’t they. Some critics call this “opening up to the audience.”
Speak For Me
This fey and twee little number, with mild flavours of Nick Drake, blends home spun singalong hooks and a great arrangement with lame, boneless lyric dribble – la de dah! It’s really, really so very. very pleasant, old fashioned, quaint, parochial and, maybe, contrived.
Something like Olivia.
Olivia is taken…but blah blah, blah best friends girl..… Again Mayer pulls some old Eric Clapton out of the bag, but, he’s about 40 years too late. Okay so that’s finished. Nice one Mr. Clapton.
Born and Raised
The Title Track – with THE David Crosby and THE Graham Nash also in the studio – hell that must have cost a few bucks – has an obvious CSNY flavour…and The Band, it’s all here; some soft Dylan-esque country; What becomes clear is how great Bob Dylan’s songwriting talent really is. John Mayer is much closer to David Gray-lite.
If I ever get around to living…
I’m going to lock myself under the stairs with Matthews Southern Comfort and a loaf of David Gates’ Bread. What is he singing about? An uber-light keyboard and some gentle guitar – folky man. Well hot damn, those A&R guys know exactly what’s going down out there. Down home, humble, windswept, artsy, folk ,earthy, country…stuff. If it’s old enough, no-one will actually remember how good it was the first time around.
BUT, even the chamaeleon smoke and mirrors trickster Mayer can’t pull off the genuine Beardster, fixed gear sound of bands like the “of Horses” (+), or, some other paunch’ dudes in their sister’s jeans who don’t shave. Pour me a glass of diet Barry Gibb and stick a rhinestone in it. Goddamn, there’s almost a groove coming on. A warm, fluffy groove – it’s probably the best track here.
Love is A Verb
Love is a Verb, is a pretty, decent song , uplifting, short and sweet, great arrangement, great sonics – but again, everything you’ve heard before from The Band, Mr. Eric Clapton and Curtis Mayfield. Yes, Love might be a Verb , but this song just isn’t long enough for me to, er, **** to, baby.
Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967
Yes. The submarine song finally sees Mayer penning something of genuine interest and building a Macartney-esque picture postcard that escapes from trying to be something it’s not or someone else’s bag of nails. If this is the kind of contraption Mayer might knock together if he used his own hammer and tools, then , well maybe the future’s orange.
Whiskey Whiskey Whiskey
Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey – well this really kills the uplift at the end of the album for me. So they drank whiskey in the good ole days did they? Let’s talk about it. Is it Scotch? Or are you mixing it with coke? Yeah – must be – it ain’t neat on this record. John is back in New York with a scottle of botch, trying to find himself. Don’t think he made it but he has however found a harmonica.
A Face to Call Home
The penultimate track, A Face to Call Home; despite the ridiculous idiocy of it’s title develops into a definite winner with some conspicuously Edge style guitar hooks and a majestic slow-paced CodPlay feel.
The Verdict – Good, Bad or just plain Ugly?
Despite all this pilfering and plagiarism, Born and Raised is John Mayers most honest work to date and a definite improvement over his last woeful effort which was virtually unlistenable. Perhaps we might yet see Mayer produce something of real weight, something remarkable, there are glimmers….signs.
Some reviewers have even suggested that this record could sit along side Music from Big Pink or Sweetheart of the Rodeo , but that is just absolutely misaligned, fanciful, hopeless bullshit and crapola. The worst kind of Generation Z hype that the music industry peddles so it can suck a few more bucks from their shrinkwrapped fast food music products.
If you don’t know anything about these archetypal bands then you’ll enjoy this. It will taste new. If only this record was as beaten up and haggard as John Mayers Custom Shop Relic guitar, but the overall polish and smooth smooth mix pale in comparison – for a few reasons….
Mayer’s effort lacks the ROOTS vibrations and songwriting complexity of the Byrds and The Band’s efforts. Nor does Born and Raised feature the mindblowing production of The Band and the colourful instrumentation of Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Okay that’s enough goddamn hype for now – we’ve included Music From Big Pink at the bottom of the page – it is a record by The Band.
Not good and not truly ugly, but bad enough – Angel Eyes.
The Real Music From Big Pink
+ Band of Horses – Ed.