Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On repeat: Jessica Lea Mayfield - Blue Skies Again

If there is one consistent punching-bag on this blog, it is country music. Which is a tad ironic, considering some of my favorite albums fall under the "alt-country" umbrella. Ryan Adams' "Heartbreaker", is one of the handful of albums I consider "perfect", and a little band named Wilco hasn't done so bad for themselves either. So when I dismiss most country music offhand, know that it's not that because hate the genre, it's because they have such lofty contemporaries to measure up to.

One such artist who compares favorably to the Wilco's and the Ryan Adams' is Ms. Jessica Lea Mayfield. At just 18, she released With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, which earned substantial buzz and critical acclaim. Her music oozed atmosphere associated with back porches and dusty saloons, but it was her smoky voice and ear for melody that caught many an ear. On 2011's Tell Me, she expands her palate beyond country accoutrement, buffering her voice with whirling electric guitars and effects, that recall more Ennio Morricone than Woody Guthrie. No less country, but with sharper teeth.

Despite the squealing guitar solos and vocal effects, each song has a tender melody at its core that stands admirably in the face of all these elements. The best balance of this, comes on a song like "Blue Skies Again", that gives her a burbling bassline to sing on, before the tornado of guitars and background singers sweep into the chorus. On her last album, it would be drained of its energy and exuberance, becoming a tear-stained piano ballad in the process. Perhaps being able to drink in the bars her music lives in has given her a new perspective on her sound, or maybe her earlier work was just draped in teenage ennui that she is still shaking off. Whatever the case may be, she has a rawness and presence that is remarkable at any age.

"Blue Skies Again"

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