John Mayer Trio – Try! (2005)
purchase this album


Try! (Live)

The name “John Mayer” has become synonymous with the sort of lazy, disingenuously sensitive pop that female college freshmen love and serious music fans make an extreme show of hating, and that’s perfectly understandable: Both Mayer’s major-label debut, the remixed-and-repolished Room for Squares, and its followup, Heavier Things, are bursting at the seams with the stuff. But there’s more to the story than most people realize, or are willing to admit. As far back as his first indie release, the acoustic Inside Wants Out, Mayer was warning people that he wasn’t necessarily all about the folk-pop thing — he blamed the album’s sound on budget constraints more than anything else — and promised disappointment for anybody expecting him to be that guy.

And then there was Room for Squares, and all the wild commercial success that goes along with telling girls that their bodies are a wonderland, but anybody who caught Mayer live — particularly during his club tours in ‘00 and ‘01 — could have told you that there was something more interesting going on than the pop hits would have you believe. The guy can flat-out play, for one thing; Ryan Cabrera he ain’t. For another, in a live setting, Mayer’s chief inspirations become much more apparent. He worships at some pretty impressive thrones, like Hendrix, Vaughan, and Brother Ray, but in a far less embarrassing fashion than his dorm-room-poster-boy looks would make it seem. The simple fact of the matter is this: He makes a tempting, easy target, but guys who can write and play this well are few and far between.

His studio albums haven’t done much to prove this, however, and with Try!, one gets the feeling that Mayer is making up for lost time. He hit the road this year with two grizzled studio vets who have absolutely unimpeachable cred, Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino, and christened the outfit the John Mayer Trio; Try! is a live document of a few highlights of the tour. It’s a punchy blend of new originals, ballsy covers (Hendrix and Ray), and a couple of songs from Heavier Things, and does a pretty bang-up job of rehabilitating Mayer’s image.

Will it make believers out of the unconverted? No, and nothing would; Mayer’s well aware of that. But it’s short, solid, and muscular — everything this type of record is supposed to be. And best of all, it’s got the aura of an album made for personal satisfaction, which is rare for an artist of Mayer’s youth and stature. Dig on “Gravity” (download) and “Try” (download).