If you've heard of John Mayer before, it might be because of the string of celebrity girlfriends he's left behind (as in Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Simpson), or comparisons drawn to guitar gods Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler. Rarely is he judged on musical ability alone, and love him or hate him, John Mayer has that in spades. In his latest studio effort, Battle Studies, Mayer puts forth an interesting mix of ballads and sing-a-longs, from the radio-friendly "Half of My Heart," a duet with pop princess Taylor Swift, to the melodic "Heartbreak Warfare," which channels U2's the Edge so strongly I had to check the liner notes to make sure it wasn't him playing. Either way, it's a solid album, and Mayer is truly a guitar virtuoso in his own right; in this bubble gum polished pop world, a real musician is hard to find. I'm a fan of Mayer's lyrical abilities too, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek references to his own flaws, and a proper dose of self-deprecation, as in my favorite tune, "Who Says," when Mayer croons, "I don't remember you looking any better/But then I don't remember you." I'm still partial to Mayer's Continuum (2006), which includes a mean Jimi Hendrix cover of "Bold as Love," but this album nods its head to Robert Johnson's Crossroads, and does it justice. Mayer himself said of Battle Studies, "...it incorporates a lot of the lessons, observations, and a little bit of advice...like a handbook, a heartbreak handbook." Well, he certainly should be versed in that.
Recommended by Rachel DeBusk