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.
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.