John Mayer proves his ambition and self-confidence with a new album from his freshly formed band, the John Mayer Trio. Mayer teams with drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Pino Palladino to create the stripped-down, bluesy album Try! Departing from his radio-friendly, swoon-worthy style, Mayer releases the group’s first disc as a live CD with very few previously recorded songs. Mayer’s attempt to capture the same sound as bands such as Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience is a big risk, but for the most part, Try! is a good mix of funky blues and smooth vocals.
On Try!, singer-songwriter Mayer trades his Grammy-winning ballads for rootsy, blues-driven pieces. He gives his best rendition of guitar legend Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow.” The trio’s guitar and instrumentation on this track far exceeds Mayer’s vocals. His voice seems more comfortable as he covers the Ray Charles classic “I Got A Woman,” which was made popular earlier this year as a sample for Kanye West’s “Gold Digger.”
With the opening track “Who Did You Think I Was?” Mayer seems to be answering his critics and skeptical fans about his decision to go to the blues roots. Mayer’s lyrics and vocals ooze with honesty and sincerity. The excellent jam quality and energy of the live audience make this a standout track. It is clear from the song that Mayer’s early days at the Berklee College of Music were spent studying the likes of B.B. King and other blues greats. While his sound does not tap into anything as pure as the legends of the field, the trio manages to create a quality sound.
While his goal may have been to leave his pop sound behind, “Good Love Is On The Way” sounds like it could be a track off his hit-laden album Room for Squares. He does the live blues rendition of “Something’s Missing” and Grammy-winner “Daughters” from his 2004 album Heavier Things. The sappiness of “Daughters” seems out of place on the predominately blues album. While a perfectly fine version of the track, perhaps it was not the best choice for Mayer’s new venture.
The title track “Try!” appears last on the disc and has a furious upbeat tempo, which allows Mayer’s voice to sing in his proper voice range. His smooth vocals sound most at home on this track and exhibit the best skills the band has to offer. Once again, the lyrics return to Mayer’s explanation for his musical departure. He sings, “I’m gonna try, I’m gonna try to be myself this time.”
Mayer’s guitar skills shine more than his voice on many of the tracks. The instrumentation of the three-piece is quite good. While Try! is the best blues the trio could produce, by comparison to it’s inspiration, it lacks soul. The tracks – while skillfully played and sung mostly on pitch and tune – make the album lack some luster. True blues and funk has more heart and more guts.
As a whole, Try! is a brave attempt for the John Mayer Trio and succeeds at creating a radio version of blues. Mayer does not completely shed his pop style for this album, perhaps in an effort to hold onto his devoted fans. Yet, the album is bold enough to shake him free from the purely weeping-ballad mode. The Trio will have a bright future if it continues to develop its sound and Mayer shakes all his pop demons.