Jessica Lea Mayfield: Tell Me (Nonesuch)

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Jessica Lea Mayfield: Trouble
Jessica Lea Mayfield: Tell Me (Nonesuch)

With a languid delivery not dissimilar to Lucinda Williams but with a whole swag more alt.rock in her system, Mayfield certainly keeps excellent company: she appeared on the Black Keys' album Attack and Release (the Keys' Dan Auerbach produced this); she has opened for familiar Elsewhere names such as the Avett Brothers, Ray LaMontagne and Jay Farrar; and came into her current musical location via bluegrass and a love of Dave Grohl's Foo Fighters.

There's no bluegrass here though, folks.

This is (mostly) moody alt.country given an indie.rock twist'n'jangle -- and damned if she doesn't sound like a hurtin' Karen Black in the Jack Nicholson/Bob Rafelson film Five Easy Pieces on the monochromatic/monotone Trouble.

It's very much the stuff of a lonely motel room near a railway track in the Mid West, but with an electric guitar and buzzy amp, not a mournful acoustic.

Auerbach and the small band add slightly disconcerting trip-hop touches in places (Tell Me) and in others locate Mayfield in a strange western saloon -- but it is her self-assured lyrics which grab your attention: yes she's been hurt and there is a sexual backdrop, but she's more mature and confident than her lovers ("I ain't gonna change for nobody at all, I'm starting to like this new love I have found") and she has -- in her lyrics -- found her voice.

"I won't let you stand in my way" she sings on the wonderful, sad sounding Sleepless right at the end. "I'm not alone, I have company, an internal roar that won't let me be."

These could be read as feminist polemics, but they sound utterly personal discoveries.

And from the twanging, dreamy but gloom-laden opener I'll Be The One You Want Someday through the almost-soulpop and poetics of Blue Skies Again (the most mainstream track here) and the oddly cheap techno-groove of Grown Man (younger woman reassuring her older man, and herself, about the relationship) to the sexual Sometimes at Night (located in "one of those seedy outdoor motels") this is very different album which constantly unpsets expectations.

Jessica Lea Mayfield has country in her blood but a big city world weariness and -- like the best -- suggests she has lived these songs.

This really is quite something.

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