Jessica Lea Mayfield Tell Me Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A treasure of tremendous emotional resonance and focus from the rising country singer.

Mike Diver 2011

At the age of only 21, Ohio songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield already has some serious weight upon her shoulders. One can argue she brings it on herself, by virtue of being quite as talented as she is; but when you’re already being not only compared to, but lined up as a successor to, the likes of Neko Case and Lucinda Williams in the press, the pressure must be felt.

But if Mayfield did feel that expectations were growing in size in the wake of her breakthrough debut proper, 2008’s With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, which sent country-minded critics into a spin that’s maintained its momentum ever since, there’s no sign of her cracking on this charming new collection. At least "charming" is the first impression – once the stripped-back accompaniments have been digested, Mayfield’s sharp, unguarded lyricism comes to the fore. This girl, despite her tender years, has clearly been burned by tribulations of the heart. The title of the opener here, I’ll Be the One That You Want Someday, says of a lot of this record’s content; its words tell of a certain cynicism born perhaps of so many bumps in the road travelled thus far, rushes of blood to the head spurred by encounters with potential paramours not necessarily to be trusted. But at the same time our protagonist wants to be held, despite the obstacles before her.

At its most easy-going, Tell Me walks a line of much immediacy – Blue Skies Again is a typical ode to positivity after time spent languishing in doldrums, which while hardly inspired of theme is delivered with commendable aplomb. When she’s down, though, Mayfield really makes a point of articulating herself in a manner unbecoming of an individual unlikely to have experienced all that many bruises – it’s an approach, delivered with straight-faced sincerity, which echoes Laura Marling, and much of Tell Me will appeal to fans of the young British folk singer. Somewhere In Your Heart moans with battered resignation and speaks of drastic action – "My heart is through / And begs my hands to do / what I shouldn’t do" – and Run Myself Into the Ground finds Mayfield standing her ground at the outset of a relationship, whatever the outcome. It’s one of the saddest celebrations of newfound love ever committed to record.

Produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, and selected by publications stateside as one of 2011’s most-anticipated releases, there’s no doubt that Tell Me arrives with appetites properly whetted. And, quite brilliantly, it delivers every second of the promise whispered by previous releases and press reports. A record of uncommon vulnerability from an artist of clear ability, it’s a treasure of tremendous emotional resonance and steely focus, summarised with the final lines: "My mama said no-one can stop me / I won’t let you stand in my way."

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