By DYLAN LEMERT
After a meteoric rise to fame in the early part of the new millennium that culminated in the release of his critically acclaimed “Continuum,” John Mayer began veering off the rails.
Beginning with the somewhat lukewarmly received “Battle Studies” released in 2009, Mayer proceeded to give a series of awkward, controversial and way-too-personal interviews to publications like Playboy and Rolling Stone, cementing his place as a desperate, waning rock star.
For the next three years, the musician, who had by now become halfway synonymized with middle-age breakdowns, went nearly off the radar. He toured sparingly and released no new music, leading many to surmise Mayer’s once lustrous career was all but over.
As if he had something left to prove, Mayer then attempted to salvage his reputation by purposely sequestering himself from the public spotlight for the better part of the last couple years. He sold his homes in New York and Los Angeles and moved to the plains of Montana, settling in the famed Paradise Valley locale.
It was there where he penned “Battle Studies,” last year’s soulfully southern ode to redemption. (“I’m a good man, with a good heart/had a tough time, got a rough start/but I finally learned to let it go,” he sang on that album’s apologetic lead single “Shadow Days”)
This summer, Mayer continues to share his newfound thirst for life with “Paradise Valley.” A folky, salt-of-the-earth cousin to “Born and Raised,” “Paradise Valley” is the work of an artist who seems, for all intents and purposes, finally content.
“Waitin’ on the day, when these words are in stone, when the kids are all grown, and we go dancing,” he croons on the appropriately titled “Waitin’ On the Day,” which pines for the quiet comforts of old age.
This theme is reverberated in songs like “I Will Be Found (Lost at Sea)” and “Badge and Gun,” contemplative ballads that are also two of “Paradise Valley’s” best tracks.
The vocal appearances by Frank Ocean on the brief segue “Wildfire” and by Mayer’s girlfriend Katy Perry on the pleasant “Who You Love” are perhaps the aging musician’s way of keeping tabs on his mainstream audience.
Nevertheless, the bulk of “Paradise Valley” aims to cover more organic ground. “You’re No One ‘Til Someone Lets You Down” and a cover of J.J. Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze” are more on par with Johnny Cash than Jason Mraz, so much so it’s hard to believe Mayer is the same man who wrote “Your Body Is a Wonderland” back in 2001.
Of course, maybe he isn’t that man anymore. Now 35 years old with six full-length albums and thousands of performances under his belt, “Paradise Valley” is as much an intentional distancing from the antics of youth as it is a reminder to slow down and enjoy the present.
“You get to a certain age where you prepare yourself for happiness,” Mayer told Ellen DeGeneres in an interview last year. “Sometimes you never remember to actually get happy. I remembered to get happy.”
With happiness no longer eluding him, Mayer continues to prove with “Paradise Valley” he’s ready to accept life as it comes, now free from the burden of high-profile living.
“Life ain’t short but it sure is small,” he sings in the end-of-summer anthem “On the Way Home.” “It don’t come often and it don’t stay long,” he continues plaintively.
At least now, with half his years behind him, it seems he doesn’t have much trouble admitting that.