Released: September 12, 2006 by Aware Records/Columbia Records
When John Mayer burst onto the music scene in the early 2000’s, I was nowhere to be found. At least nowhere near any radio station that would have been playing his music. So aside from occasionally stumbling across one of his tunes in a time and place where I really didn’t have the headspace to let it register, I was pretty much new to the man’s talents when I received this disc as a gift from a dear friend who apparently knew me better than I gave her credit for. I was immediately taken in by the album, it for some reason reminding me of a personal favorite, Bruce Hornsby’s 1990 gem A Night On The Town, both albums effortless in the way they wound into my consciousness. I’ve heard this album referred to as “pop”, but it’s far too smart for such a designation, while at the same time being way too smooth to warrant the “blues” label it sometimes gets tagged with. Instead it resides in that nebulous genre called “adult contemporary”, where pop sensibility lives with a roommate called integrity and maintains a strong familial bond with its ancestors, blues, jazz and country.
Vocally, Mayer reminds me at times the relatively unknown but criminally overlooked Jude Cole, particularly on Cole’s I Don’t Know Why I Act This Way album. Other times he reminds me of Marc Cohn, if not strictly in vocal quality then at least in delivery, both guys being in strong touch with 70’s R&B (white boy soul without the schmaltz, if you will). The album’s big pop hit, “Waiting For The World To Change” draws me to Cohn’s own “Walk Through The World”, albeit with a larger message, both songs bopping along in a Motown-meets-the-suburbs kinda way. Which is a credit to Mayer, who’s lyrics throughout the album read genuine and sincere rather than forced and preachy. He seems to write from the heart, sticking to what he knows even when he’s making a larger point.
Mayer’s guitar playing was also quite a surprise for me, as what little I knew of him coming in was that he was a singer/songwriter type. I had no idea he was as accomplished a player as he has turned out to be here, his cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love” really popping my eyes the first time I heard it. But while I’m sure he could rock out quite a bit (and probably does) when he wants to, it’s the quieter stuff on this album that stirs me, tracks like “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room” and “In Repair” just hauntingly beautiful, both lyrically and musically. And it’s the simplest song on the disc, “The Heart Of Life”, that stays with me the longest. Around the time I was absorbing this album into my musical mind, I was working on a stage show and was desperate to find a way to use this track within the context of the production. I was never able to, but hearing it almost always brings me back to that time.
Strangely enough, as much as this album swarmed over me so quickly, I’ve never taken the time to go back and visit the rest of Mayer’s catalogue. Nor have I picked up any of the follow-ups. And I’m not sure why. Odds are I would find myself digging them as much, but in the end I think I just don’t have the room in my life to be this laid back all that often. Music like this demands my full attention and requires a certain degree of melancholia that I just came seem to muster up these days. Hard to believe, but the older I get the more I seem to want to rock out.
ALBUM RATING: 10.
2. I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)
9. Bold As Love
10. Dreaming With A Broken Heart
11. In Repair
12. I’m Gonna Find Another You