John Mayer’s soloing strategy on his latest record, the ’80s-inspired Sob Rock, was very much ‘less is more’, where licks served as punctuation, rather than full-blown showcases for his exceptional improvisational ability. But anyone wishing those solos were just a little longer is in for a treat, as the blues-pop heartthrob today dropped a new “ballad version” of the Toto-esque Last Train Home, which opens and closes with extended solo sections.
Recorded live at Hollywood’s Henson Studios, the clip begins with Mayer exploring some light-as-you-like motifs around the track’s irresistible hook, before delving into a subdued, synth-led rendition of the single.
It’s the track’s outro that will have Mayer fans frothing at the mouth, however, as he dials up the pick attack and digs in to his Roxy Pink PRS Silver Sky for a full two minutes of uninterrupted Mayer-isms.
Singing vibrato, vocal scale runs, and repeat bends to die for: it’s all here, with a sumptuous delay-enhanced overdrive tone, likely from a combination of Dumble, Fender and (whisper it) Fractal. PRS’s signature scoop around the lower horn pays dividends throughout, too, as much of the playing focuses on the upper reaches of the bird-inlayed fingerboard.
Mayer’s remarkable dynamic control in this track is in part down to the studio setting, but the fact he’s wearing headphones for the performance is also notable – back in August, he claimed donning the cans made him feel more connected to the rest of the band, allowing him to play more dynamically.
Elsewhere in the video, you can spot Mayer’s Sob Rock cohorts Lenny Castro, Greg Phillinganes, Sean Hurley, David Ryan Harris, Aaron Sterling, and producer Don Was.
Of his soloing strategy on Sob Rock, Mayer told us, “You know, my ears and my hands are two very, very separate entities, and I let my ears rule. So while it’s fun – just primally fun – to get more time to play a solo, I become deeply upset with myself when I start to hear myself thin out. It’s almost like a fountain pen, and I can always tell when the writing gets thin as a guitar player.
“And I don’t tolerate it in myself, even though the other side of myself just wants to let loose. So I’ll let loose… and then I’ll listen back. And the ear is the boss. And my ear goes, 'I will simply not tolerate a solo that’s twice as long as it needs to be.'”
Whatever Mayer’s ears think, we reckon his hands did a pretty good job in this performance…