|John Mayer, “The Search for Everything” (Columbia)|
Earth’s reigning guitar icon, John Mayer, is out with his seventh studio album, “The Search for Everything.” It reveals a calmer artist taking a measured approach to accessible funk-laced songs.
This is a confident album that feels less like an artistic exploration and more like plate of musical comfort food. There are few unexpected turns. The arrangements are solid, if a slight bit predictable.
“Still Feel Like Your Man” is the track that stands out most — the easy-to-feel rhythm is accessible and the lovelorn message is a good fit. Slow breaks give way to a danceable hook and a sunny outlook for Mayer.
“Helpless” continues the newfound funky Mayer approach. Sure, he’s always had the ability to play this tight, chunky guitar stuff, but he’s previously eschewed it for pop and blistering rock explorations. It’s a tight song, but doesn’t reveal the ever-evolving Mayer much for us. “Rosie” might have worked better slower, with more of a torch underneath it. Instead, Mayer opted for the path of least resistance when he might have pushed himself more.
It’s good enough and there are no plum awful tracks. But “The Search for Everything “ gets softer and softer with each song. Too much piano here, not enough guitar there and, before we know it, Mayer is either taking an emotional breather or positioning himself for the “Moana 2: Wedding Band Boogaloo” soundtrack.
His fans will accept, but ultimately shrug at this album. It feels bereft of the songwriter tumult that got him here.
Ron Sexsmith, “The Last Rider” (Compass Records)
Ron Sexsmith maintains his melodic consistency on “The Last Rider,” 15 pop songs absorbed by the threat of loneliness and ways to avoid it.
The Canadian recorded his 13th solo album with his touring band, adding to its ease and intimacy. Sexsmith has said he thought this could be his final recording for some time, but the pleasure of the experience might make him reconsider.
Sexsmith is at his most romantic on “Evergreen,” ‘’Our Way” and “Worried Song,” his significant other appearing in different guises as the source of hope, security or inspiration.
“Radio” is low-voltage power pop about the days when young lives revolved around the AM/FM dial and “people could move you with just a voice and a song.” Sexsmith sounds a little like Rufus Wainwright on the lighthearted “West Gwillimbury,” also a trip down memory lane, as is “Breakfast Ethereal,” about a “soft focus world where tomorrow seemed bright.”
“Dreams Are Bigger” has a singalong chorus worthy of a long-distance dedication — “If your dreams are bigger than your worries, you’ll never have to worry about your dreams” — with musical hints of New Orleans, while “Man at the Gate (1913)” was inspired by a postcard purchase and dwells on anonymous lives and connections across the years, also recurring themes in the Sexsmith catalog.
There are no surprises here but don’t be distracted by the apparent familiarity of some of the tunes. Sexsmith’s range may not be wide but his aim is true.
Brad Paisley, “Love and War” (Arista Nashville)
When you can namecheck the UFC and Zebco fishing reels in the lead track to your 11th studio album, “Love And War,” you are probably Grammy Award-winning country music machine Brad Paisley and you can do no wrong.
Paisley is the salve when someone throws a curveball at country. He’s that dependable voice of bro-country. All of the familiar icons are here: pickup trucks, and jobs you have to get to. But the hidden secret is that Paisley can play the paint off a guitar and get the biggest names in the business to sing along with him on his strongest tracks.
Sir Mick Jagger helps him out with stellar vocals on “Drive of Shame,” a raucous twang of a track. John Fogerty weighs in on the album’s title song, “Love And War,” a soaring call-out to take care of America’s veterans when they come home broken.
Resistance is futile. If you like country, then there are a couple of Paisley songs you love. If you’re new to the genre, he’s an easy way in because he surrounds his music with everyman themes and solid musicianship.
“Love And War” has tracks that will burn up hot country spots on the radio dial and cement his place as the most dependable act in the business. The mix-down throughout is a tad flat, but this is meant to be heard in a bar, in a truck, on the road and on the go.
Angaleena Presley, “Wrangled” (Mining Light/Thirty Tigers)
Angaleena Presley has earned her place in the resistance to the formulaic vibe that rules Nashville these days. On her new album, “Wrangled,” she cements it with muscular fury.
Presley established her credentials with “American Middle Class” in 2014. On the new album she confronts similar demons, raging against the Nashville hierarchy but also Christian hypocrisy and any effort to pigeonhole her as a songwriter and a woman.
Rapper Yelawolf joins her on “Country,” a tirade against bro-country, complete with a “thank you for Sturgill Simpson” shout-out to everyone’s current favorite rebel. And on a feminist collaboration with rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson, Presley declares herself “not just a pretty face, not a flower in a vase.”
But Presley is at her best when she’s not ranting. She’s a world-class songwriter, which she proves on the title cut and on “Cheer Up Little Darling,” co-written and delivered with the late Guy Clark, a longtime mentor. The last song Clark completed, it serves as a gentle farewell.
LOS ANGELES: Prince was one of the most prolific major artists in recent history, and as he assumed control over the rights to his music in the last 20 years of his life, his discography became a dense thicket of one-off releases, ranging from major label albums to Internet-only singles to albums given away with concert tickets or even newspapers. (And that’s not even including his hundreds if not thousands of unreleased recordings.) The situation is so complex that sources say the Universal Music Group, which in February procured licensing rights to much of Prince’s catalog in a $30 million pact, is seeking to get out of the deal because it claims reps for the artist’s estate misrepresented its ownership of the material. (Agencies)
Things became even more complicated on Tuesday evening when a press release dropped announcing that a new EP called “Deliverance,” containing three previously unreleased songs dating from 2006-2008, will drop on Friday — the first anniversary of the artist’s death.
The release claims that the songs on the EP — the title track, an eight-minute-plus multi-part “Man Opera” containing four titles, and an extended version of one of those titles, “I Am” — were co-written and co-produced by Prince with longtime Paisley Park engineer Ian Boxill. After Prince’s death, Boxill completed recording and mixing the songs.
“I believe ‘Deliverance’ is a timely release with everything going on in the world today, and in light of the one-year anniversary of his passing. I hope when people hear Prince singing these songs it will bring comfort to many,” Boxill said in the release. “Prince once told me that he would go to bed every night thinking of ways to bypass major labels and get his music directly to the public. When considering how to release this important work, we decided to go independent because that’s what Prince would have wanted.”
A source close to the situation tells Variety that Boxill claims ownership of the recordings, but the estate may take legal action against him. A rep for Boxill did not respond to Variety’s request for an interview with him.
What is surprising, given the shady-seeming provenance of the recordings, is how good they are — particularly the title track, a bluesy slow-burner with some blazing guitar work, gospelesque backing singers and a soaring falsetto vocal from Prince. The “opera” is less successful but still intriguing — the four linked segments are dramatically different stylistically, ranging from a simple rocker to a gentle ballad, a complex, almost classical segment and a closing slow groove — as is the longer version of the song “I Am.” The material is strongly reminiscent of Prince’s 2006 album “3121,” which many feel is among the best of his later albums.
The EP will be released by an independent, apparently Christian label called the Rogue Music Alliance based in Vancouver, Washington (a visit to the label’s website reveals just a link to an email address and the words “RMA Logo goes here” in large letters, followed by the words “equity for artists”). A substantial marketing plan is apparently in place, as the firm has hired a top PR firm and says it has deals in place with iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Walmart, Target and others.
A rep for Universal, which technically could have rights to the recordings under the terms of the deal it is now trying to get out of, declined comment; a rep for Prince’s estate did not respond to requests for comment. (Agencies)
By Rohn Harris