MayerIn 2005, John Mayer toured with a new trio featuring Steve Jordan on drums and Pino Palladino on bass.  This was heady company for Mayer, who was best known as a pop performer with serious chops on guitar.  Jordan had played with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Sonny Rollins and Stevie Wonder, among countless others, while Palladino supported Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Nine Inch Nails, the Who and many, many more.  To call them among the best and most versatile at their respective instruments wouldn’t generate much of an argument as a retort.  The John Mayer Trio recorded one album together, a live set entitled “Try!”

When Mayer set out to record his next studio album, he was still in the afterglow of the trio’s work.  Jordan co-produced, and he and Palladino played on most tracks.  Two songs the trio had performed live were re-recorded for the album that became “Continuum,” which was released in 2006:  “Vultures,” with Larry Goldings joining to add keyboards; and Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love,” a heady challenge for any Fender-wielding guitarist.  On the Hendrix tune, Mayer did better than just fine as he and Jordan toyed around together on an extended outro.  “Vultures”  was an exquisite bit of slinky funk with an alluring guitar riff and understated solo.

Mayer top-loaded “Continuum” with potential hits, none of which pandered to pop-chart requirements:  It opened with “Waiting for the World to Change,” with its “People Get Ready” vibe of its backing track and tasty instrumental interlude that featured Roy Hargrove on trumpet; and had as its third track “Belief,” with its contrast of Jordan’s fat pattern on drums and cymbals and the slinky figures on guitar played by Mayer and Ben Harper.  Both songs revealed a new approach to lyrics by Mayer, as they revealed what he considered his generation’s apathy in the face of troubling current affairs.

On “Continuum,” Mayer took on a range of styles, most of which permitted him to stretch out on guitar, even when he went to the quiet side.  “Stop This Train” and “Heart of Mine” were built around his finger-picking on acoustic guitar; in the latter, he overdubbed an electric guitar to heighten the sweetness.   As he had stacked the top of the disc with potential hits, he chose to conclude it with three ballads.  In “Dreaming With A Broken Heart,” which rose from touching notes and chords on piano, Mayer cleaved the tender environment with a beefy statement he continued even as he resumed singing.  “I’m Gonna Find You Again” was a minor-key blues with a horn section arranged by Willie Mitchell and his son Boo, a team that had worked earlier with Al Green, Buddy Guy, Solomon Burke and others.   Mayer soloed under his vocals on “I’m Gonna Find You Again,” and his playing was so appealing that it was a bit disappointing he hadn’t opened a much larger space to explore.   (A live version recorded at Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre and released in 2008 featured an extended solo on a big-bodied Gibson.  That solo was even longer, and better, on the accompanying DVD.)

“Continuum” was a huge hit for Mayer.   It sold more than three million copies worldwide and was nominated for three Grammys, including Album of the Year.  It won for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for “Waiting on the World to Change.”  He followed “Continuum” with “Battle Studies,” which even Mayer conceded couldn’t be compared to its predecessor.  He’s since released two additional albums.   “Born and Raised” and “Paradise Valley” tilted toward spry Americana and folk-rock; thus, Mayer went away from his great strength as a blues guitarist.  But, with Jordan and Palladino at his back, Mayer created a memorable collection with “Continuum” that presented him as a formidable musician and savvy songwriter.  It’s worth a long listen for those magical moments when the trio and highly accomplished friends make the most of Mayer’s appetizing musical blend and undeniable skills.