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Old 09-13-2006, 11:36 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default John Mayer - Continuum

I'm a Blues-first music fan, so John Mayer flew under my radar for a long while. I have a profound respect for guitarists, however, so when I saw Mayer play at the Crossroads Guitar Festival a couple years back, I had to see what he was all about. Didn't know what I'd find, but what I saw that day was a guy that was clearly among the best guitarists of his generation.

So I started where I do with every new artist I sample: at the beginning. Inside Wants Out was clearly an acoustic demo, and even back then Mayer's guitar chops were extremely evident. I still prefer the acoustic rendition of Neon to the studio cut on his first major release. The best of this album would be repeated on Room for Squares save for the catchy, up-tempo Love Soon, which is a track I'd still like to see him revisit.

On the whole, Inside Wants Out is about what you'd expect. A good effort from a young artist trying to break out and find himself, but ultimately nothing to write home about.

If I had to pick two words to describe John Mayer as a musician and songwriter, they'd be "understated" and "evolving," and there's no question that the evolution began with Room for Squares. This album is clearly the result of the music industry trying to find a niche for a new artist. Aside from a minor flourish on City Love and the string-driven melody of Neon, there's no real evidence of Mayer's guitar virtuosity on display. Instead, the album rests squarely on Mayer's wistful lyrics and acoustic stylings.

Were it not for the radio-friendly No Such Thing and Your Body is a Wonderland, Mayer's star could easily never have risen at all. The album's truest gems, City Love and Why Georgia went largely unnoticed. As a result, Mayer earned a reputation as a Top 40 artist, with a flair for heartfelt lyrics and bubblegum pop.

Luckily, the evolution continued.

At this point, I'd honestly lost interest in the guy. I picked up his live show Any Given Thursday in the DVD clearance bin and was again hooked by his amazing guitar work (if also unimpressed by his garbled live vocals at times). So I decided to give Heavier Things a shot.

When you're hamstrung by your label (and by being labeled) it's amazing what a Grammy can do for your musical freedom. It's clear that he was given a lot more room to breathe in the studio when composing the majority of his second studio album. The lyrics had the same feel, but the music had taken a large and unexpected sideways leap. The acoustic stylings were supplanted with an electric R&B flavor, complete with horns and vastly superior percussion. If nothing else, it was clear that Mayer had gotten himself a new drummer.

Still, the label rules all, and Sony chose to lead off with the predictable and unimpressive Bigger Than My Body as the first single release. A decent effort, but not at all representative of the overall sound of the album. Clarity, one of the stronger tracks, was released on its heels and helped sustain sales for a time, but it wasn't until its second year on the shelves, once Sony had gotten behind Daughters as a hit-calibre single that Heavier Things went on to rival Mayer's first album sales (and two more Grammy wins).

Now i was a fan. Heavier Things was by no means a perfect album, but it showed a lot of Mayer's growth and maturity as a musician. Personally, I find his songwriting to be uniformly good, tempered by flashes of both brilliance and boredom, but his musicianship is truly unmatched by anyone his age.

I caught him live during a business trip in Colorado on his Heavier Things tour, and the guy is absolutely at home and commanding on stage. I also saw his performances with Buddy Guy and Double Trouble on Austin City Limits and again with Brad Paisley on CMT Crossroads, and he held his own (and then some) when both outgunned and out of his element. In an improvised acoustic duet, he blew Paisley (a seriously gifted guitarist in his own right) clear off the stage.

Recent collaborations with legends such as Herbie Han****, B.B. King, Sly & The Family Stone, Eric Clapton, and Aaron Neville clearly demonstrate his respected acceptance by the heaviest hitters in the industry, inspiring him to shake off his pop-centric roots and release the blues/rock album Try! with Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino.

And now it's Continuum, released Tuesday as his third solo studio effort. I'm still getting a feel for it, but it's absolutely a big step forward from Heavier Things. This one is best described as a blues/soul album, and each track is a worthwhile effort. John Mayer has carved out a pretty unique sound for himself. While you'll hear lyrical a melodical nods to obvious influences from Marvin ***e to Curtis Mayfield, the lyric/music combo solidifies Mayer as an artist that has finally found his identity and sound.

In the past, I've seen many references to John Mayer being a "Dave Matthews ripoff" and I can't express just how musically uneducated that opinion is. Aside from being pop singers with guitars in their hands, there's really no obvious connection between the two.

If I had to make an honest comparison, Sting is the first guy that comes to mind. Not because they sound alike, because they don't. Here you have two guys that broke out young and allowed the world and music around them to shape their art. There's no comparing Sting's work with The Police with his latest efforts. His evolution as an artist over the last 30 years is staggering in both style and substance.

I think John Mayer is on a similar path. He keeps changing it up, trying new things, working with artists from multiple genres and allowing it to affect his tastes and creative process. There's no ego about it. It's unpretentious. I never get the sense that he's trying to impress anyone. Instead, each new track builds on what came before, always with a new twist that I rarely expect and always appreciate.

As a Blues fan, it used to pain me a little to admit that I'm a big John Mayer fan. Not anymore, and Continuum is why. Check it out.

4.5/5
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Old 09-13-2006, 11:39 PM   #2 (permalink)
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What's up Don??
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Old 09-14-2006, 02:10 AM   #3 (permalink)
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I very much doubt this is Don.
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Old 09-14-2006, 11:45 AM   #4 (permalink)
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It's not Don...nice post by the way.
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Old 09-16-2006, 12:04 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I saw him on Conan the other day. He did sound a lot more soulful than some of his previous work.
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Old 09-18-2006, 01:53 AM   #6 (permalink)
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I actually LOVE this album, best album I've heard this year anyway
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Old 09-18-2006, 04:13 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Better vocals? For serious? I might actually check it out. He's a great guitarist but a pretty shite songwriter.

Good review by the way.
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Old 10-18-2006, 11:09 AM   #8 (permalink)
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so far ive loved the album...especially since he's made the entire move forward of blues/pop songs. especially his cover of bold as love.
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Old 10-19-2006, 07:06 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Try a band called City of Colour and there CD "Sometimes"

also try Amos Lee.
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Old 01-15-2007, 03:36 AM   #10 (permalink)
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This is the first John Mayer album I've heard and I like it the more I listen, though I've now listened to his first two albums and they aren't very good in my opinion, except for a few songs. Maybe I need to listen to them more.
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