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In Rotation: Jessica Lea Mayfield's 'Tell Me'

March 18, 2011 |  5:57 pm

Mayfield A series in Sunday Calendar about what we're listening to right now...

Jessica Lea Mayfield doesn't have the biggest voice in the world — she's not as dreamy as Patsy Cline and doesn't possess Adele's streamlined beauty. Mayfield's tone is lazier, easier and a little huskier, more Friday-evening-porch-swing than Sunday-morning-church-pew. She sings about hearts, nights, sleeplessness and general trouble associated with that triumvirate and does it with a kind of singsong melancholy that could get monotonous were it not for her memorable songs and the way her casual drawl expresses a quiet intensity.

Mayfield performed for years as part of her family's country band, One Way Rider, then as a teenage solo project under the name Chittlin' and now as a young woman. “Tell Me,” her first record for Nonesuch Records, was, like her 2008 debut, produced by labelmate Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Both are Ohioans, both are born of blue-collar music and both understand the appeal of wide-open spaces and timeless yet unique emotion. You can hear it in the feel of the record, which sounds beautifully analog, warm like a Muscle Shoals, Ala., studio session circa 1968.

The songs don't break new ground sonically or push at the boundaries of structure. But packed carefully and intricately inside are enough hand-drawn flourishes — a nice little drum machine on “Trouble,” a warm organ on “Sleepless” — and surprising, mature lyrics (“I know how you work / I am just like you / No matter what you say / Our hearts are wrong”) to feel that something important is happening and that, though Mayfield is only 21, her voice is eloquent enough to warrant enthusiasm not only for her present work but also for all the music to come.

—Randall Roberts

"Tell Me"
Jessica Lea Mayfield
Nonesuch/Polymer Records