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John Mayer, ‘Paradise Valley’


When John Mayer made “Born and Raised,” his 2012 album, he was in full-on retreat mode. His loose lips had gotten him in trouble when discussing his love life and sexual proclivities. Before long he was chafing at the reality that he was becoming known more for his personal pursuits than his professional ones. John Mayer the musician had receded from public view. That was apparent on “Born and Raised,” a collection of dusky, country-tinged pop songs that made it clear Mayer had a lot on his mind and needed some space to process it. It was an unexpected and lovely detour into wilder pastures. On “Paradise Valley,” its follow-up, Mayer is still mining that mellow gold, but the music has lost its spark. These new songs are so amiable that you wonder where they’re meant to take you. Often the breezy journey — while pleasant enough — leads to dead ends. The album cover alone plays up his newfound Americana credentials, featuring a widescreen shot of Mayer in ramblin’-man garb looking like he’s in search of a Crosby, Stills & Nash jam session. A dog sits at his feet. The music is just as stilted, light and loose in uninteresting ways. “Wildfire,” with a guest vocal from Frank Ocean, hums with the faint din of crickets. Mayer’s lady, pop star Katy Perry, turns up on “Who You Love,” a slack duet that’s decidedly in Mayer’s favor. “Some have said his heart’s too hard to hold/ And it takes a little time/ But you should see him when he shines,” Perry sings. Like the rest of this album, it’s all smoke and no fire.
(Out Tuesday) JAMES REED

ESSENTIAL “Who You Love”