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Columbia Records, $9.99
Even those of us who have yet to date and break up with John Mayer may find “Paradise Valley” unlikeable. Kids are apt to spend some time with the hummable tunes before moving on to more fulfilling relationships.
Predictably, Mayer’s in love-’em-and-leave-’em mode. “Sure was fun being good to you,” he sings. And, “I was made to chase the storm.” And, “Some nights I throw it all away.” On “Who You Love,” Katy Perry weighs in, singing, “Some have said his heart’s too hard to hold.”
Best is the summery “Waiting On the Day,” which layers lovely vocal harmonies over a reggae pulse, and “Paper Doll,” a gentle shuffle with darting guitars. Elsewhere the songs are slow and slower fizz and froth, and there’s nothing here to make us think, laugh or understand Mayer better. The serial celebrity romancer’s not leaving any blood on these tracks, which is a missed opportunity because a lot of words rhyme with “Taylor.”
Don Was co-produced Mayer’s sixth effort, which makes the hodgepodge arrangements a surprising disappointment. There’s a bit of flute here, some pedal steel there, and a tiki-bar mood that neuters Mayer’s guitar playing, usually his strong suit. On the most bluesy song, the JJ Cale-esque “Call Me the Breeze,” Mayer’s solo is just building steam when it’s oddly interrupted mid-verse.
Mayer can still write a pretty melody and his singing’s fine following treatment on his vocal cords. But nearly half of the songs include wordless vocals, probably because on “Paradise Valley” Mayer doesn’t have much to say.
Songs From St. Somewhere
On Jimmy Buffett’s first album in four years, the mayor of Margaritaville returns to mixing softly swaying beach tunes with pirate tales of foreign intrigue and social commentary. The problem, however, is Buffett’s voice doesn’t sound nearly as engaged as his imaginative songwriting and a few turns with inspired guests.
The 66-year-old veteran sounds bored on the island songs, snapping off each word with a clipped tone and a bland sense of phrasing — an about-face from the performances that made Buffett such an enjoyable performer in the past. He sounds livelier on a series of ambitious songs about the mysterious adventures of a world traveler, but the tunes lack the hooks that made Buffett’s famous songs of long ago so memorable.
There are positive exceptions, especially when guests Mark Knopfler (on “Oldest Surfer on the Beach”) and Latin singer Fanny Lu (on a Spanish version of “I Want to Go Back to Cartagena”) stir up the proceedings. Best of all is a duet with country star Toby Keith. “Too Drunk to Karaoke” bobs along with common-man humor and vivid writing and performing. It’s the one song from the new album sure to become a favorite during Buffett’s ever-popular live shows.
Crash My Party
Capitol Nashville, $11.88
Within the first minute of “That’s My Kind Of Night,” the opening track on Luke Bryan’s new album “Crash My Party,” he cites tailgating, beer drinking and a nameless “pretty girl” in suntan oil and cowboy boots — all standard modern-day signifiers for a country song.
Set to an electronically altered bass-and-drum rhythm, the song also refers to a country hip-hop mix tape, a reflection of the tune’s arrangement, which mixes banjo, hard-rock guitar riffs and hip-hop production touches.
What Bryan’s fourth album doesn’t offer is many surprises. The current Academy of Country Music entertainer of the year, Bryan sticks with souped-up country rockers and romantic ballads about how guys who like to fish and guzzle beer and drive pickup trucks do better with women and generally have more fun than their counterparts.
That theme rings out in the title song and many others, including “Beer In The Headlights,” “We Run This Town,” “Play It Again,” “Out Like That” and on and on.
Bryan and producer Jeff Stevens do push the edge of how many electronic effects they can use in a country song. But in every other way, Bryan sticks a bit too predictably with a successful formula on “Crash My Party.”
Heads Up International, $9.99
George Duke was left devastated by the death of his wife, Corine, from cancer a year ago and unable to make music for months, but the keyboardist and composer eventually overcame his grief to create an inspiring collection of mostly original compositions called “DreamWeaver.” He weaves together the eclectic threads of his 40-plus year musical career: acoustic jazz, electronic jazz-rock fusion, funk, R&B and soul.
The mid-tempo “Stones of Orion,” which pairs Duke on acoustic piano with longtime collaborator Stanley Clarke on upright bass, is a gently swinging modern jazz composition that recalls his early days with Cannonball Adderley’s band. Duke’s distinctive ability to make vintage synthesizers — the ARP Odyssey, Minimoog, clavinet and Prophet 5 — sound bluesy and funky comes through on the 15-minute “Burnt Sausage Jam.”
Duke also assembled an impressive lineup of soul and R&B vocalists, including Lalah Hathaway, Jeffrey Osborne and BeBe Winans on the uplifting, gospel-influenced “Change the World,” which takes after Michael Jackson’s “We Are the World.” “Ball & Chain,” written by Teena Marie for a jazz album she planned with Duke, is one of the late powerhouse singer’s last recorded performances.
Duke expresses his love for his late wife on the tender, piano-driven ballad “Missing You,” a romantic vocal duet with Rachelle Ferrell. The album ends by turning the cowboy ballad “Happy Trails” — Dale Evans’ closing theme to “The Roy Rogers Show” — into a soulful, heartfelt farewell to his wife, made even more poignant by the sudden death of guitarist Jef Lee Johnson shortly after he recorded the fadeout guitar solo.