Close your eyes. Erase your mind. Forget about Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and the various extracurricular activities that have hobbled singer-guitarist-romantic John Mayer’s reputation off the playing field. Breathe, and think about the guitar while inhaling fresh air and electrified guitar licks. As a Wyoming wind blows through your hair, imagine that the John Mayer Cruise never happened.
For many -- but by no means all -- such a Mayer reboot is necessary. Doing so in earnest before popping on his new album, "Paradise Valley," will offer payback for those yearning for peaceful, well-imagined guitar rock as earlier crafted by bands including the Eagles, the Flying Burrito Bros., the Grateful Dead and “Nashville Skyline”-era Bob Dylan. The guy’s apologized for his past media indulgences, and “Paradise Valley” makes a strong case that those of us overly annoyed should let it go.
Eleven songs that hit the mark where last year’s overwrought "Born and Raised" mostly missed, “Paradise Valley” is a more lyrically restrained and less generically reflective affair. And musically, it’s bigger, more accomplished and more approachable.
At its best, as on “Dear Marie,” Mayer acknowledges his fame with a measure of embarrassment in a musical letter to a former high school sweetheart. (He even confesses to searching for her online.) Opener “Wildfire” will have fans of Little Feat and the Dead giddy. And the mid-album interlude of “Wildfire” features a gorgeous turn by vocalist Frank Ocean, who conjures a striking image of a woman jumping from the Eiffel Tower while Mayer harmonizes. The closer, “On the Way Home,” describes the return home after what seems like a pretty awesome summer vacation.