John Mayer has made a career of growing up (or failing to grow up) in public, and Paradise Valley, his sixth studio album, continues that autobiographical journey. As its title (a reference to Mayer’s Montana retreat) indicates, this chapter finds him in a relaxed, joyful frame of mind. And why not? After two throat surgeries, his voice is fully restored, and his personal life has ceased to be a tabloid fixture.
As on last year’s Born and Raised, Mayer works with producer Don Was and dives into American roots music. Country and folk elements abound; the filigreed guitar lines of “Wildfire” recall the Grateful Dead. Mayer can get in trouble when he pushes too hard for effect, so the laid-back vibe here works to his advantage, allowing both his talent and his charm to shine. His boldface love life enters the picture in a lovely duet with his ex Katy Perry (“Who You Love”), as well as in “Paper Doll,” a measured if pointed response to Taylor Swift‘s eviscerating “Dear John.” “You’re like 22 girls in one,” he sings, a nod to Swift’s song “22.” “And none of them know what they’re running from/Was it just too far to fall?”
Frank Ocean handles the vocal on a different, soulful version of “Wildfire,” the opening track. And Mayer’s slow burn on J.J. Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze” turned unexpectedly poignant when Cale died shortly before the LP’s release. The song’s meaning remains true for Paradise Valley, however: Mayer continues to blow down the road, this time carrying far less baggage and all the better for it.