John Mayer made a promise at his last Boston-area concert. Back in 2010, around the time he had made disparaging comments about his racial tastes in women, Mayer told the crowd at the Comcast Center that he was going to stick to singing and playing his guitar instead of letting his loose lips mouth off.
Good call. We haven't heard much from the singer-songwriter since then, but his new album makes it clear that the intervening years have been tough. "Born and Raised" finds Mayer in full-on soul-searching mode, and it's an honest, and oftentimes compelling, statement on his road to redemption.
It's largely a vintage California folk-rock record, with acoustic shades of Laurel Canyon, references to Neil Young, and a soft focus on matters of the heart.
Mayer coproduced the album with Don Was, and together they coat the songs in a warm sheen — from Greg Leisz's mercurial pedal steel on "Queen of California" to the Americana glow of "If I Ever Get Around to Living." The title track recalls Crosby, Stills and Nash; sure enough, David Crosby and Graham Nash are on backing vocals.
But it's the songwriting that reveals new facets of Mayer's talent. He sounds like a man reborn, and the transformation suits him. "Did you know that you could be wrong/ And swear you're right," he asks, seemingly of himself, on "Shadow Days." "Some people have been known to do it all their lives/ But you find yourself alone just like you found yourself before/ Like I found myself in pieces on the hotel floor." (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL "Shadow Days"