With Blasphemy So Heartfelt

Folk music has seen its share of offshoot styles including new folk, alt-folk, and freak-folk. Add to that drone-folk, or at least that’s how I refer to the music of 19 year old Kent, Ohio singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield. Minimalist, dark and dense isn’t exactly what I was expecting from someone so young but I guess early adulthood can be a time of reckoning, self discovery, and when disappointment feels like a life sentence.

With Blasphemy So Heartfelt is Mayfield’s debut solo release. She previously toured with her family’s band One Way Rider. At 15 she recorded and released 100 copies of a collection of songs called “White Lies” which caught the attention of Black Keys guitarist and Akron native Dan Auerbach. This encounter led to Mayfield’s appearance on the band’s song “Things Ain’t Like They Used To Be.”

Auerbach has taken the fledgling songbird under his wing, producing and playing on her debut. This seems like a strange pairing but after listening to Blashemy it makes perfect sense to me. Like Auerbach, Mayfield writes simple tunes that eschew elaborate production; like Auerbach’s own debut, Mayfield’s songs are strung out on a rope of reverb creating an atmosphere of hollow rooms that echo Mayfield’s plaintive, angst ridden vocals. Mayfield sticks to acoustic guitar while Auerbach contributes organ, piano and guitar riffs that sound like drifting smoke. Bob Cesare, who also drums on Auerbach’s debut, beats out a steady rhythm that sounds like distant thunder. David Mayfield, Jessica’s brother, plays cello on the single “For Today.”

Jessica Lea Mayfield’s voice is curiously subdued and flattens out on long, sustained notes as if she’s resigned to the awful fate of her doomed relationships. There is both a touch of Nico and Mazzy Star in her phrasing. Religious motifs drift in and out of her lyrics as she searches for the silver lining in life. For such a young thing she certainly offers introspective musings on life.

If you took the songs on Dan Auerbach’s debut, Keep It Hid, and ran them through a strainer to remove the testosterone, what you might end up with is the songs of Jessica Lea Mayfield. It makes sense that Auerbach would take Mayfield as his protégé.

Jessica Lea Mayfield ranks in WYEP's 10 ten albums of 2009.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)