Jessica Lea Mayfield’s appeal is the extra breaths buried in her minimalist melodies, the uncomplicated lyrics sung with pangs and a lack of pretension, the mix of country and traditional Americana elements into typical acoustic fare. But the Ohio singer-songwriter’s Nonesuch debut is a little overburdened with production.
I say this with the knowledge that the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach helmed the album, “Tell Me.” There were seemingly a million tracks at Mayfield’s disposal, and they’re filled with electric guitars and pristine drum tracks galore, but with her six-string plodding simply beside her plain voice. I find I know frustratingly little about her as a person and songwriter at the end of 11 tracks.
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But there’s something there-there, underneath the squeals and aggressive bass lines in “Nervous Lonely Night.” And Lucinda Williams-esque –awls and –awns and -ohws, the drawn-out dipthongs that will render you “Sleepless.” The boops and beeps of “Grown Man” awkwardly bound to her beat, but her organic voice reveals -- at the very least – this 21-year-old is a damn good heartbreaker and flirt.
Mayfield's range seems limited but, like Morrissey, those notes she can sing she sings so well. “Blue Skies Again” has a major label sheen as those high notes at least threaten a little discord; the title track gets its roughest edges from Auerbach’s harmonies.
With its weird little imperfections, “Tell Me” on the whole is a songwriter -- who formally sang in her family bluegrass band --comfortable with stepping to the mic, under-singing and approximating her single notes like they're graded on a bell curve. I’d love to hear more, what she has in the future, when she’s stripped of all her studio armor.
Listen to Jessica Lea Mayfield's "Tell Me" in its entirety here.
The album was released today (Feb. 8).