Music reviews for Aug. 22, 2013

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Associated Press and Philadelphia Inquirer
Wednesday, August 21, 2013

John Mayer, “Paradise Valley”

Even those of us who have yet to date and break up with John Mayer might find “Paradise Valley” unlikable. Kids are apt to spend some time with the hummable tunes before moving on to more fulfilling relationships.

Predictably, Mayer is 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.

Mayer can still write a pretty melody and his singing's fine after 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.

—Steven Wine, Associated Press

Guy Clark, “My Favorite Picture of You”

 “The high price of inspiration/ Always leaves me broken/ But I keep comin' back for more …,” Guy Clark confesses near the end of his new album. If the creative process is a debilitating struggle for the Texas-bred, Nashville-based troubadour, you'd never know it from the results here.

With “My Favorite Picture of You,” the 71-year-old Clark's storytelling skills remain as tersely sharp as ever, and the delivery as effortless. As usual, the songs are placed in acoustic folk-country settings that fit the craggy contours of Clark's voice and his conversational style. The “you” in question is Clark's late wife, Susanna, who is pictured on the cover, and the title song is one of the album's most moving.

But Clark writes just as affectingly about others, whether it's the stranded illegal immigrants in “El Coyote” or the scarred war veterans in “Heroes.” And in “Good Advice,” he offers just that, for fellow songwriters, in his own ornery way: “Don't give me no advice that rhymes/ I've heard it all a thousand times/ Don't start preachin' between the lines/ Give me something I can use.”

—Nick Cristiano, The Philadelphia Inquirer

K.T. Tunstall, “Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon”

“We are fighters in our prime,” K.T. Tunstall sings to her father on her new album, and the words resonate with poignancy now that he's gone.

“Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon” focuses on the death of Tunstall's dad last year, and from her sorrow sprung perhaps the best set of songs yet by the Scottish singer. She recorded the album in Arizona, where the stark desert landscape depicted in the cover art perfectly matches the musical mood.

Tunstall finds beauty amid the bleakness, and her intimate alto eloquently expresses her emotions as she contemplates mortality. Co-producer Howe Gelb provides graceful support with sparse but distinctive wow-and-flutter arrangements.

“We're all made of glass … with one eye on the clock,” Tunstall sings in “Made of Glass,” and there's comfort in her candor. The songs are neither sentimental nor heavily spiritual, although the final composition offers an epitaph for her father as a choir swells, singing with angelic fervor about the end.

—Steven Wine, Associated Press

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