2005, Rasputin Manifesto
Forget everything you already know about the old John Mayer. Forget that he was one of those pretty boy Dave Matthews soundalikes so many ladies loved. Forget how easy it was to hate that whispery, cold-plagued voice. It's a new day, and John Mayer himself is as sick of his music as some of us were, too.
"I'm done with acoustic guitar, balladeering, I'm done with acoustic groove. Acoustic groove sucks so bad," Mayer said in an Associated Press story that ran on November 23. "I've sucked the flavor out of it."
And with that, Mayer is forging ahead with the power trio that created his latest album, Try! John Mayer Trio Live In Concert (Aware/Columbia). It was recorded at, among other venues, the House of Blues in Chicago.
The other two cats lighting the fire that's putting Mayer's ass in gear are bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan. Palladino spent many a year with a solo Pete Townshend before most recently stepping in for the late John Entwistle in the latest incarnation of the Who. Jordan is best known as the guy providing irresistable grooves and that distinctive drum sound in Keith Richards' band, the X-Pensive Winos. The combined experience of these guys would pose a tremendous challenge to just about anyone. As it turns out, John Mayer is rising to the challenge most commendably.
For one, Mayer's guitar playing is spot-on, locked into a tight groove with Palladino and Jordan, and sports a thick tone to give needed heft to the trio's sound. It's a ballsy sound, which is exactly what helps give a defiant song like "Who Did You Think I Was" some punch.
"Am I the one who plays the quiet songs? / Is he the one who turns the ladies on?" Mayer rhetorically asks in "Who Did You Think I Was." It's his declaration of independence from his old image and old sound, and he sings it with a sense of purpose his voice can't deny.
And that voice - his throat opens up to match the power of his guitar, and he ends up sounding less like Dave Matthews and more like Stevie Ray Vaughan. This is a most welcome change, and a necessary one in order for us to be able to take renditions of Jimi Hendrix's "Wait Until Tomorrow" and Ray Charles' "I Got A Woman" seriously. And seriously, they're very well done. The former is a straight reading of the original, while the latter is reinvented over a bouncy, funky groove created by Palladino and Jordan. It serves as Mayer's chance to introduce his esteemed band mates and jam out a little.
Elsewhere, Mayer digs into some pure blues on "Out Of My Mind," mines the awesome groove of Steve Jordan on "Vultures," and blasts through some rock n' roll with "Good Love Is On The Way" and the album's closer, "Try."
As much as Mayer is intent on moving forward with his new direction, consequences be damned, he's still too nice (or smart, take your pick) a guy to throw all of his old repertoire out the window right away. So he throws his old fans a couple of bones with "Something's Missing" (his spoken intro is the lone moment of artery-clogging cheese on the album) and the big hit "Daughters," both from his 2003 album Heavier Things (Aware/Columbia). More than a few fans were happy.
So now it should all make sense - what blues vets like B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy, and jazz masters like Herbie Hancock and John Scofield were hearing in this guy to consider him a worthy collaborator on some of their own projects this year. No, they're not going senile or losing their edge. They were just a few steps ahead of the curve in recognizing what John Mayer was capable of doing. Try! bears this out in a most exciting way.