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“Got a brand new blues that I can’t explain,” explains John Mayer on the opening “Who Did You Think I Was.” No longer “the one who plays the quiet songs,” the your-body-is-a-wonderland fella now counts himself “half of a boy but I’m twice the man,” covering Jimi Hendrix and Ray Charles on a live album powered by a rhythm section that cuts even Buddy Guy’s. But except on the seven-minute workout “Out of My Mind,” Try! isn’t really a blues album—it’s a pop album by an r&b-hip band, its finest song the Mayer remake “Daughters.”
At an AOL-netcast gig at the Bowery Ballroom November 23, his transformation had progressed further. The trio—featuring famed show drummer Steve Jordan, a black man dressed all in white, and quieter-than-with-D’Angelo bassist Pino Palladino, a white man dressed all in black—opened with “Every Day I Have the Blues” and flew their indigo for well over an hour, with Try!‘s bluesed-up “Gravity” strengthened, Try!‘s bluesed-up “Good Love Is on the Way” hobbled, and “Don’t Need No Doctor” in fine fettle. Manning six color-coded guitars, Mayer showed off far richer technique than he had with Guy, and the Zigaboo beat Jordan laid under Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow” eventually bore fruit with a cover of the Meters’ “Cissy Strut.” That was after a jam Mayer christened “Turkey Grease.” ‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving, and half of a boy was sitting on the floor, playing the blues.