News Column

John Mayer grows softer; Tedeschi Trucks rocks harder

August 20, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 20--John Mayer searched for maturity on 2012's "Born and Raised" -- a noble goal after dominating TMZ headlines for years with his big mouth and string of celeb exes. The search continues on new disc "Paradise Valley."

Co-produced by Don Was, the album scores the psychic journey from August to September: summer romances burn out, people leave, others stay to find themselves alone, everything turns wistful and dusky.

Mayer spent a career backing away from pop and stadium singalongs. He finally has the skills to compose and arrange tunes that echo his growth into a campfire king. "Paradise Valley" features his guitar at its most subdued and tasteful, framed by airy folk, country rock and '70s singer/songwriter fare -- see "Waitin' on the Day," "Badge and Gun" and J.J. Cale's "Call Me the Breeze."

His lyrics don't match his musical progress. But he comes up with a few gems: Mayer haters should give "Dear Marie" a chance. Next time out, I expect something good enough to put on the shelf between "Sweet Baby James" and "Slowhand."

The Tedeschi Trucks Band's "Made Up Mind" comets in the opposite direction from "Paradise Valley." The rock 'n' roll power couple of local girl Susan Tedeschi and her husband Allman Brothers Band guitarist Derek Trucks threatened to go adult contemporary with 2011 debut "Revelator" -- good tunes played too smoothly. "Made Up Mind" cranks up the volume.

Right from the get-go of the gospel-inspired title track, the 11-piece band booms like a soul thunderclap: Tedeschi's voice calls to the heavens over deal-with-devil guitar blues. Then the formula repeats 10 times with the pair's best songs yet.

The album rages with Stax horns, Motown-style melodic turns and huge (but not overbearing) blues guitar. If you needed a little more lightning than "Revelator" offered jump in with "Whiskey Legs."

You know the part in the film when things get weird? Like The Dude flying with Julianne Moore as a Valkyrie vixen in "The Big Lebowski" or Willy Wonka opening the door to his psychedelic candy land? On "Paracosm," Washed Out created an entire album of intro and outro music to scenes like those. The album starts with birds chirping (naturally) and blossoms into a fabulous fever dream of manipulated drum beats, spacey synthesizers, vocals lost in ether and stranger stuff (harps? sitars?). Masterminded by Georgia musician/writer Ernest Greene with help from co-producer and engineer Ben H. Allen II, this second Washed Out album lets you turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.

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