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Album Review

Tell Me is 21-year-old songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield's sophomore effort and her debut for Nonesuch. Produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach (again), these 11 songs reflect a more ambitious sonic palette for Mayfield's moody, broken love songs. While comparisons to Laura Marling are inevitable, Mayfield's songs — and Auerbach's production — touch but also reach far outside singer/songwriter fare toward indie rock terrain. Mayfield's songs are darker, with more discontent, and all contain elements of the subtly sinister or perverse. In her Kent, OH drawl she moves ghostlike through a no-woman's land of loss, want, and discontent, discarding what her protagonists already possess in favor of something much more elusive and possibly dangerous. The album opens with the rootsy "I'll Be the One That You Want Someday," with reverb aplenty from Auerbach's guitar, highlighted by a piano, electric bass, and drum kit. It's country-flavored, but it pushes at those limits. "Our Hearts Are Wrong" follows suit with Auerbach playing even meaner reverb-laden guitar and an organ by Scott Hartlaub. The lyrics scorn a lover but not without counting the cost: "...The only time I miss you is every single day." The album changes shape in "Blue Skies Again," where a throbbing bassline by David Mayfield chugs the melody into strident indie rock, as layers of guitar and drum loops underscore the vocal; on the verses it's weary and lonesome, but the refrains turn that upside down. The male backing "doo wop" choruses add a perverse element to her lyrics, turning the song's optimism into irony. "Grown Man" features innocent-sounding analog synths and cheap drum machines that stand in sharp contrast to Mayfield's brazenly sexual lyrics as she lets want and enticement drip freely in her vocal. "Nervous Lonely Night" could have been recorded by the Shins, with its swooping "ooo-oooo" group choruses highlighted by a squiggly synth. While "Sometimes at Night" is a 21st century version of a country waltz, "Tell Me" is indie rock futurism with a nostalgic, exotic twist. This sets up the most dramatic and beautiful track on the set — the languid "Run Myself into the Ground" — before the Americana singer/songwriter fare of "Sleepless" closes the set. Tell Me is slicker and delightfully weirder than its predecessor, but its emotion and craft ring true throughout.

Biography

Born: 27 August 1989 in Kent, OH

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

A folk-influenced songwriter from Kent, Ohio, Jessica Lea Mayfield began performing with her family's bluegrass band, One Way Rider, at the age of eight. She started writing her own music three years later, often accompanying her older brother at open-mike performances in the Ohio area before landing a weekly solo gig at a local bar. At 15 years old, Mayfield took to her brother's bedroom to record a batch of her own acoustic songs, which ran the gamut from raw, aggressive folk...
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Tell Me, Jessica Lea Mayfield
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