John Mayer, Paradise Valley

Ryan Reed

By Ryan Reed

on 08.20.13 in Reviews

Paradise Valley

John Mayer

John Mayer may have titled his sixth album Paradise Valley, but the singer’s past few years have been anything but paradise: He’s suffered through tabloid-bait break-ups (with pop princesses Katy Perry and Taylor Swift), weathered accusations of racism for his now-infamous Playboy interview, and he also grappled with debilitating throat granulomas that nearly ruined his voice forever.

Wiser, tougher and weirder

In spite of these setbacks, Paradise Valley finds Mayer at his most laid-back, embellishing the open-prairie folk of his previous album, Born and Raised, with breezy vocal harmonies and jazzy electric guitar nectar. Whether he’s in wistful-daydreamer mode (the shuffling country-folk of “Dear Marie”) or channeling his inner Slowhand (the impeccable, guitar-drenched kiss-off “Paper Doll”), Mayer’s hooks and grooves have an effortless glide to them — so much so that it’s easy to ignore that Paradise Valley is the most random, eclectic he’s ever made: Frank Ocean randomly croons over cricket noises and psychedelic guitars on “Wildfire,” and there’s a serviceable (if slightly forced) cover of J.J. Cale’s blues classic “Call Me the Breeze.”

Mayer’s health problems have left sonic scars: Throughout (and especially on the slow-burning “I Will Be Found Lost at Sea”), his voice is deeper and smokier, as if he’s spent the past year listening obsessively to Dire Straits and smoking a carton of cigarettes each day. But it’s nice to hear a little rough in all that smooth: With Paradise Valley, Mayer sounds wiser, tougher and a hell of a lot weirder.