Born and Raised

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Nothing halts the momentum of a career like a few poorly chosen words to the press. Take John Mayer, who in 2009 still seemed like the quintessential modern lothario, singing sweet songs of love and seducing starlets all across Hollywood. Then at the dawn of 2010, just months after the release of his fourth album, Battle Studies, he gave an interview with Playboy where he managed to insult former and current lovers while callously dropping racial slurs, a snafu plenty difficult to survive, but its gravity was compounded when his former lover Taylor Swift wrote a nasty kiss-off "Dear John" at the end of the year, a move that effectively banished him to the outskirts of L.A. -- which, if the sound of his 2012 comeback is any indication, resides somewhere around the vicinity of Laurel Canyon. Yes, the public humiliation and a subsequent health scare have pushed Mayer back in time, all the way back to the turn of the '70s when singer/songwriters across Southern California strummed their guitars and sang about their souls, back when his idol Eric Clapton was obsessed with the rootsy tumble of Delaney & Bonnie. Mayer never rock & rolls the way EC did when he was in love with D&B, but he certainly is emphasizing his affection for American roots, particularly of the folk and country kind. Those two sounds are the best vehicles for the kind of solipsism Mayer engages in on Born and Raised, where he does his best to sound sorrowful and contrite yet manages to stumble upon his own deep-seated desire to remain a lover-man. He doesn't murmur romantic words; he plaintively says he's sorry over austere acoustic backdrops, taking pains to ensure that Born and Raised feels weathered, rustic, and lived-in. This authenticity is supposed to strengthen his public contrition but it's hard to shake the feeling this is all an act, particularly when he interrupts his burnished apologies to sing "Something Like Olivia," a come-on addressed directly to House star Olivia Wilde. In another setting, this celeb crush would be amusing and possibly charming, but here, it (along with the lingering self-pity) undercuts whatever sincerity Mayer managed to muster elsewhere on Born and Raised.

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