When Born and Raised was released, I was unsure about the authenticity of John Mayer’s new sound until I learned of the involvement of Nash and Crosby, which seemed to bring understanding to his new sound. With Paradise Valley, Mayer has once again matured as a musician into a new phase of his depth and individuality. The folksy, country sound infused in Paradise Valley is bursting with playful nostalgia that makes this album incredible to listen to. But its not a surprise – every album of Mayer’s has landmarked his giant steps in musical evolution.
“Wildfire” starts the album, and I love it – the initial guitar riff echoes the Summer breeze of a lighter sense of ease in Mayer’s attitute. Post throat-surgery, and after a few years of widespread public criticism, it seems that the album is like a 3 month vacation in his own Paradise Valley, that the album is titled after – “cause a little bit of Summer’s what the whole year’s all about”.
Complete with that Summer is a little bit of Mayer’s public love-life in the last few years. Even though it sounds innocent enough, “Paper Doll” pastes light-heartedness all over the track…until he says “you’re like 22 girls in one”. And then you realize that this might just be a little jab right back at Taylor Swift, in response to her song, “Dear John”.
But Mayer keeps the album light with a great blues, country tune to blow into – “Call Me the Breeze” has a classic blues chord progression with a lighter country sound that keeps the momentum moving forward. It’s like he layered a song from Continuum overtop of a song from Born and Raised. But I suppose that’s what this entire album sounds like.
I was shocked to hear Katy Perry on “Who You Love”, mostly because I didn’t think that Mayer would record with Perry at any time because of their obvious differences in musical style. Katy pulls her weight – in fact she gained some credibility in my eyes. It’s a beautiful duet and a classic John Mayer love song.
Frank Ocean switches up the sound and lyrics of “Wildfire” completely on a second rendition of the track that sounds like it could’ve been recorded around a bon fire – a beautiful, one and a half minute poem of admiration.
The next two tracks pull on strong country, Western-style elements before finishing with “On the Way Home”, a track that brings the album to the end of Summer in this Paradise Valley, which could be taken as a metaphor for Mayer’s time away from live performance and music. As he says in the final lines of the album, “Hide yourself out like you know that I did, / And if you might find that your running is done, / A little bit of Heaven never hurt no one”.
This is a fantastic and beautiful album from John Mayer, reminiscent of Neil Young, which he might’ve even reference with the title of the last track – also the title of a Neil Young tune.
Regardless, you should absolutely check this album out. You’ll enjoy it.