America is a land of dreams, and for every broken Biff Loman struggling to comprehend his lack of greatness, there's a John Mayer -- a dreamy kid hidden away in his room, strumming his guitar, not just thinking he's gonna be a star but knowing it. Mayer's succeeded the old-fashioned way: by working at it, honing his talent and showing a bit of perseverance. We say "a bit" because, at 24, Mayer didn't have to wait long for stardom. Credit a smooth, airy voice and an equally light, funky blues-guitar touch, both reminiscent of Dave Matthews. Like Matthews, Mayer is eminently likable. His playing is supple -- even more so live, when he takes the opportunity to stretch out and express affection for his heroes, Jimi Hendrix and Steve Ray Vaughan.
Though Mayer's lyrical topics are standard-issue -- budding romance, missing loves and lingering self-doubt -- Mayer moors them to observations that stick, thanks to well-placed details: He leads the listener through "the kind of morning that lasts all afternoon" and "a quick game of chess with the salt and pepper shaker" as he ponders how "to fit the world inside a picture frame." As ubiquitous as his "No Such Thing" has become, Mayer seems to transcend the evanescent pop-phenom role. After that bubble bursts, one senses, he'll remain the same -- no star, maybe, but a dedicated artist who will always feel "six feet small."