Music Review: John Mayer’s New Live Album is Not So New, Not So Desirable

By Chris Moore:

This live album by Mayer is perhaps, in terms of new music, the biggest disappointment of the year for me.  Being a John Mayer fan from the beginning, I have never quite been able to understand the degree of praise he has received for going back to the blues roots.  Yes, he is an excellent guitarist, and I am happy that more people are giving him the respect he deserves.  But he was always an energetic, talented guitarist – recall “Neon” as merely one of many examples.  I was unimpressed with the John Mayer Trio – its minimalist setup and apparent reference to the great rock trios of the seventies (Jimi Hendrix Experience comes to mind) has always seemed out of place to me when considering the depth of Mayer’s vocals and instrumental components on his studio recordings.  Then, Continuum was released, and I was truly befuddled.  It wasn’t so much that I disliked this new album – though I did and do find it lackluster at most turns – but this new album garnered such an exaggeratedly positive response.  Based on Rolling Stone magazine’s review, one might expect that this was John Mayer’s most amazing album to date and perhaps one of the most significant albums of the year.

This brings us to current day, 2008, and the release of Where The Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles.  As I entered my local music retail store, I headed for the CD section, knowing that the live album had just been released.  I had decided the night before, when I first learned of its release, that I would not purchase it.  I made this decision, knowing full well that, once I enjoy one or two albums from any given artist, I usually end up buying all their subsequent releases.  However, I thought to myself, what if they lose my interest entirely?  In the case of John Mayer, it wasn’t so much a branching out and changing of his style that concerned me – it was and is my perception that he has regressed as a songwriter.

When I saw the live album, I almost bought it.

The packaging itself is solid – a live concert in three sections: an acoustic solo set, a John Mayer Trio set, and a full band set.  The acoustic set alone intrigued me; “Stop This Train” is one of my few favorites from Continuum, “Daughters” would work perfectly in this type of arrangement, and Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” is one of my favorite songs.

So, I had picked it up, and looking it over, the desire to buy it was creeping in.  Then I read the second section – the Trio set.  Five of the eight songs in this portion were featured in the John Mayer Trio live album.  What could be so significantly different about these performances?  Of the final nine songs in the full band set, all but two were songs from Continuum.  The other two included “Why Georgia,” one of my favorite songs by Mayer, and a Ray Charles cover.  Why would I want to hear a live set of songs from an album that I was unimpressed with?

Saddened and, truthfully, disappointed, I placed the CD back on the rack.  I can’t say I will never listen to Where The Light Is, but I can say with certainty that I will not purchase it myself.  And that makes me very sad, as Mayer had quickly become one of my favorite new music artists on the scene a few years ago.  For perhaps the first time in my young, CD-collecting life, I have left an artist behind.  He may be off to new work with the blues community, but I’m off to listen to his lesser-appreciated work – the charming and spirited Inside Wants Out EP, the instant hit Room For Squares, and even the follow-up effort Heavier Things.  For me, those albums had it all – solid songwriting and great guitar work.

At most, I may return to Continuum and try to figure out what exactly it is that I have missed.

This is one in a series of acoustic cover songs, original music, and free mp3 downloads here on the Laptop Sessions Music Video Blog.

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