John Mayer – Continuum (Aware/Columbia Records): Soon after John Mayer's ubiquitous ballad "Daughters" won a Grammy last year, he began an aggressive campaign to shed his "sensitive guy" tag. Mayer jammed with Buddy Guy and B.B. King and toured with a roaring blues power trio featuring two renowned session musicians, bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan. So what happened when he returned to the studio? On "Continuum," Mayer remains a master of melody, an uneven lyricist, and a far-too-reserved guitarist. Other than a daring cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Bold as Love" and the brilliant, Curtis Mayfield-like lead track ("Waiting on the World to Change"), the songs on "Continuum" are middle-of-the-road fare best suited for piping into a Pier 1 store. Mayer is, more than anything, a younger version of Sting: musically diverse, talented, capable of soaring achievement – and too prone to treacle. Grade: C
– Erik Spanberg
Madeleine Peyroux – Half the Perfect World (Rounder Records): Peyroux's third album finds her teamed with producer Larry Klein, who helmed a few mid-career Joni Mitchell projects. So it's no surprise that her duet with K.D. Lang on Mitchell's classic "The River" is a standout track, languid and aching with longing and regret. Two-thirds of the record is comprised of well-chosen covers of songs by the likes of Leonard Cohen and Serge Gainsbourg. But the revelation comes in Peyroux's stellar originals, most co-written with Klein and Norah Jones's writer Jesse Harris. The album begins in fine, sassy style with the kiss-off ditty "I'm All Right," and closes with a charming take on Charlie Chaplin's "Smile." In between, Peyroux simply beguiles.
– John Kehe