By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After rocketing to international fame with his bubbly pop track "I'm Yours" in 2008, singer Jason Mraz strapped on his cowboy boots and added a country flair to his fourth album, "Love Is A Four Letter Word."
Mraz, 34, known for his laid-back folk-pop melodies, embraced a mantra of peaceful southern California beachside living for the record, which is currently in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 album chart.
Mraz said his inspiration came from a piece of artwork, which features rectangles, circles, triangles and squares placed alongside each other to form the word 'love.'
"If I can choose to see love in this image, then I could also choose to see love in someone else or the world around me or even in the mirror, and it was this 'Aha' moment that love is a choice that we make, and I wanted to explore that," Mraz said to Reuters.
The set of songs featured on "Love Is A Four Letter Word" are positive, upbeat and nostalgic. They explore love in relationships, family, friendship or heartache.
"I spent a lot more time at home with my boots on in the backyard and the beach, playing a different kind of guitar, and that did bring out more of a country soul and laid-back feel. The tempo this time around matched my heartbeat, which is usually pretty slow," said the singer.
Songs such as "Living In the Moment," "93 Million Miles" and the album's lead single "I Won't Give Up" include little touches of country music in the guitar melodies, while "Who's Thinking About You Now" show light soul music influences.
Reviews of "Love" have been mixed, with the album scoring 63 out of 100 on review aggregator site Metacritic. Entertainment Weekly's Kyle Anderson praised Mraz for striking a balance between "hammock-strung wisdom and twee naïveté with such goofball charisma."
Jon Caramanica at The New York Times was less impressed, criticizing the album for being "filled with platitudes and, eventually, psychobabble, dippy even by Mr. Mraz's standards."
Fans of Mraz's emceeing skills, which make a brief appearance in the bridge of "I Won't Give Up," will be disappointed at the lack of the singer's witty wordplay in his fourth album. But he promised he still had a "pocketful of rhymes" and is curious to try out new sounds.
"I love how DJs take sounds and samples that are already recorded and mix them up over new grooves. I love how technology makes a new kind of sound...I'd love to create a really ethereal devotional album, and I'd also really like to make a grimy, hard-hitting dubstep album," Mraz said.
Mraz, a native of Mechanicsville, Virginia, rose to fame in 2002 with his hit song "The Remedy" and enjoyed international mainstream success in 2008 with the hit single "I'm Yours".
As his audience expands globally, so are Mraz's musical influences. For his current tour, he teamed up with a little-known Persian-American drummer and percussionist Mona Tavakoli.
"She lifts me up to a higher level and I always look forward to the shows we play together...I, in my personal life, try to keep a nice balance between sacred and silly, and Mona is the embodiment of that," said Mraz.
Mraz, an active supporter of several charities and an advocate for healthy living and nutrition, is committed to making a change through his music.
"Music is such a great tool for healing. It heals our wounds and it could be the greatest weapon in the war against unhappiness," said the singer.
(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy, Editing by Jill Serjeant)