(RNN) - There are pop stars, and then there are artists. In the 12 years since his first album, Room for Squares, John Mayer has established himself as one of pop's most versatile and talented stars.
Mayer's newest album, Paradise Valley, showcases his diversity, featuring blues and country-fused licks, pop and even a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover.
Fans can stream Paradise Valley a week ahead of its release on iTunes for free.
The album will be available at itunes.com/johnmayer until it releases on Aug. 20.
Mayer is also in the middle of his first tour in three years. Throat problems, followed by multiple surgeries, forced him to cancel his last tour and take a hiatus from music.
You can find tour dates at http://johnmayer.com/tour.
Brendan James is a classic talent who isn't afraid to expose his entire self through his music. If you want to know who he is, just pick up an album. Each song is more than a catchy tune - it's a story, an introduction, his view on a hot-button topic - it's complex and utterly heartfelt.
It only makes sense that when James became overwhelmed by the pop industry in 2011, and it started to affect his songwriting, he took a hiatus to do some soul-searching.
"I spent that time doing a lot of soul-searching and questioning whether I wanted to be involved in the pop music industry," James said. "Although I can write some folky things and I try to be somewhat alternative, at the end of the day I know I'm still considered pop and to get your name out in the pop world is trickier than anyone really realizes."
So he disappeared for a year. And when he emerged, it was with complete clarity about the message he wanted to send - simplify your life. He spent three weeks recording his fifth and newest album which he titled nothing other than Simplify.
"I picked Simplify for the title because that was my inspiration for my whole writing process this time around ... to just go somewhere by myself and keep things simple - ideas, sentiments," James said. "I just wanted to really come from a singular place that was authentically me."
James said he drew inspiration for the album from old souls like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Neil Young - artists who weren't afraid to express lyrically exactly what was on their mind.
Simplify covers a little bit of everything: From the heavier song about gun control titled The New Plan, to Simplify which talks about simplifying your life, eating the right foods, taking time to listen to your body and overall getting healthier, to Letter of Apology, a song about the environment.
"There are definitely some different topics going on in this album. There's a pretty heavy song about gun control, basically inspired by these shootings that keep happening and how I want to be one of the people who's always talking about it instead of letting it fall to the wayside over time and then having some tragic event bring it back up," James said.
"I'm not saying I want to do away with all guns or that that's even a realistic possibility, but I want to do away with this obsession that we have with violence and this fear that so many Americans have," he added.
One fascinating new trend that James and his band are a part of is bringing house concerts to towns that otherwise don't get much traction from the music industry. They're calling them backyard concerts, or house shows.
One of the brains behind taking James' music to houses around the country is his drummer on the tour, Craig Meyer.
"I had done it with a couple of other artists and the return was so great ... not just in a sense from a monetary standpoint or an audio standpoint but from a fulfillment standpoint," Meyer said. "This is a chance where you actually get to have conversations and share stories and really take a minute to appreciate the moment while you're touring."
James added that it's an equally fulfilling experience for both the musician and the fans.
"It's the most symbiotic experience that I have come across as a musician because you're very happy to give and fans are very happy to receive," he said. "You leave at the end of the night at 10 p.m. and you're both fulfilled and you go on to the next one ... where sometimes at venues there are so many other elements and things that can kind of mess it up in some way ... so you don't always get that perfect fulfillment that house shows give."
Apparently, house shows are a growing trend and could potentially take the industry in a different direction, the trick is finding hosts who don't mind learning the trade.
"It's a trend, it's starting. There have been people, like me, doing it early on but for years people have been doing it. We're building this framework, where I think more artists are going to do it because more hosts know how to do it ... and I think it's a trend that's going to keep growing."
James' tour continues through Sept. 4. You can visit his website to see if he's playing at a concert venue near you.
Michelle Obama is putting out a hip-hop album to promote healthier eating; however, she won't be showing her off her vocals.
Hip Hop Public Health and the Partnership for a Healthier America have joined teams to create Songs for a Healthier America, a hip-hop album that is discouraging childhood obesity by promoting healthy eating.
The first song available for download, Everybody, doesn't feature the first lady but it does feature Dr. Oz. Who knew the doctor could rap?
Even though Obama doesn't sing in the songs, she will make appearances in the videos.
You can watch the Everybody video and preview clips of the other songs on the Partnership for a Healthier America's website.
Besides Dr. Oz, the songs will feature artists such as Jordin Sparks, Matisyahu, Ashanti and Travis Barker.
Amid questions about their future as a band, the Civil Wars have released a video for their lead single, The One That Got Away, from their new self-titled second album.
The video doesn't feature band members, a fact not lost on lots of fans who hope the band can reconcile.
Instead it features a woman who train-hops her way across the country.
Tricia: Radiate - Aug. 13
Luke Bryan: Crash My Party - Aug. 13
Carrie Underwood: Blown Away Tour Live - Aug. 13
Yellowcard: Ocean Avenue Acoustic - Aug. 13
The Civil Wars: The Civil Wars - Aug. 6
Tye Tribbett: Greater Than - Aug. 6
John Mayer: Paradise Valley - Aug. 20
Jimmy Buffet: Songs from St. Somewhere - Aug. 20
Lee DeWyze: Frames - Aug. 20
Stellar Kart: All In - Aug. 27
Total Eclipse of the Heart is the ultimate '80s karaoke jam. It takes a real diva to hit the high notes Bonnie Tyler nailed in the 1983 classic. Or in the case of Christina Bianco, 19 divas.
Bianco, a comedian with some spot-on impressions, croons the song in the voice of 19 divas, including Adele and Cher.
We are issuing an official spew alert. Put down the coffee before you proceed, folks. YWIM is not responsible for sticky keyboards.
Deas Vail: Summer Forgets Me
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