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John Mayer’s new ‘Sob Rock’ dives into the ‘80s and comes up with something contemporary

Vince Staples and Tedeschi Trucks also have noteworthy new releases.

The cover to John Mayer's "Sob Rock."
The cover to John Mayer's "Sob Rock."Read moreColumbia Records

John Mayer

Sob Rock

(Columbia Records ** 1/2)

John Mayer didn’t want to create a “‘costume” record, he said in a recent interview with the newsletter Blackbird Spyplane. With Sob Rock, Mayer said, he sought to update the sounds of his childhood — he mentions U2, Lionel Richie, Paula Abdul, and other late-’80′s stalwarts — to the present day, a reupholstering of sorts. What he hoped to do, he says, was to “grind the influences into a fine enough dust that you can make a new paste out of it.”

Mayer mostly meets that standard on Sob Rock, a 10-track album that features songs released as early as 2018. The songs are all neat, emotionally legible — you never have to guess how he’s feeling — and the guitar solos, keyboards, and drums almost universally hearken back to the period Mayer is harvesting for inspiration.

If there are songs that sound “costumed,” it’s the opener, “Last Train Home,” and the oddly named (and, it must be said, kind of putrid) “Why You No Love Me.”

But when Mayer sounds like himself — like someone who found something contemporary that he could generate by diving into the archives — he’s as good as ever, an extremely talented songwriter whose thoughtful dirtbag appeal is as apparent as ever.

“New Light” is a fantastic track with pep in the step, and “Wild Blue” sounds like the best song The Wallflowers never made. When you hear Mayer just plain having fun, like he does on “Guess I Just Feel Like” and “Carry Me Away,” you’re having a good time along with him.

Jesse Bernstein

Vince Staples

Vince Staples

(Blacksmith / Motown ***)

California rapper Vince Staples uses brevity to his advantage. This is his second consecutive album that’s only 22 minutes long, a follow-up to 2018′s FM!. It qualifies Staples as a minimalist second only to Philadelphia rapper Tierra Whack, whose 15-song Whack World (2017) clocked in at 15 minutes.

Staples makes good use of his time. Vince Staples is his fourth album, and as its eponymous title suggests, it finds the 28-year-old hip-hop veteran revisiting his personal story, about growing up surrounded by gang violence in his hometown of Long Beach.

The songs here are at once more specific than he’s been before and suffused with an almost eerie, mellow calm.

The results are quietly powerful. The silky “Take Me Home,” which features North Jersey singer Fousheé, and the opening “Are You With That?” are two of the standout tracks on an album that’s cohesive thematically and musically, thanks in part to Kenny Beats, the producer who’s the sole beatmaker.

The searching “Are You With That?” entices with its stutter-step beat and wispy traces of melody, then cuts to the core when you lock in on Staples’ reserved rapping. “We was them kids that played, all in the street / Following leads of n— who lost their ways,” he rhymes. “Some of them outside still, some of them inside graves.”

Dan DeLuca

Tedeschi Trucks Band Featuring Trey Anastasio

Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN’)

(Fantasy, ***)

Although initially a flop, Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is now considered a classic blues-rock guitar jam album, starring Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, who moonlighted from the Allman Brothers Band to join the Dominos in the studio for a few days.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band performed the complete Layla for a 2019 appearance with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio at Virginia’s LOCKN’ Festival after the offhand suggestion of a friend. But the choice seems predestined.

Guitarist Derek Trucks is the nephew of original Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks. He was named after Derek and the Dominos. He did stints with both the Allman Brothers and in Eric Clapton’s band. Guitarist and singer Susan Tedeschi, his musical and marital partner, was born the day Layla was released on Nov. 9, 1970.

While the original album featured a lean band of five, here we get 14, including horns, backing singers, two drummers, and four hotshot guitarists, with Doyle Bramhall II joining Tedeschi, Trucks, and Anastasio.

It’s a performance for lovers of dueling guitar jams and extended solos — it’s nearly twice the length of the original double album. Tedeschi’s powerful voice and the horns expand the character of many of the songs (Anastasio shares lead vocals on many tracks). But the album is all about the guitars.

A stripped-down version of the Tedeschi Trucks Band performs a sold-out show at Appel Farm in Elmer, N.J., on Sunday night and headline the XPoNential Festival at the BB&T Pavilion in Camden on Sept. 18.

— Steve Klinge