Jessica Lea Mayfield is a bit of a mystery to me.
First and foremost, in appearance. All of her promotional posters and album covers have her with pixie-cut blonde hair, but the woman I saw on-stage at IOTA Club & Cafe had chin length brown hair, so I was thrown off a bit from the start. Cute and coquettish, she shyly opens her lips when speaking on-stage to reveal a full mouth of girlish metal braces.
And yet, counteracting this demeanor was her very short high-waist dress and four-inch clear heels, the kind that are generally seen in strip clubs and mentioned in Chris Rock HBO specials.
I must say that I enjoyed this quiet yet confident approach, as it carried on past appearance and into her songs, many of which are about desire and passion, ending with heartbreak and loss. This includes the single “Our Hearts Are Wrong” from her latest LP, Tell Me. In the video below, she plays the song for David Letterman on his show.
The dark and wounded tone in this song is one that is portrayed lyrically and musically throughout her entire discography. At first you might think such minimal instrumentation and vocal range would just make a song, well, boring, but with a heat brought on by the southern twang in her accent and the deep reverb of Mayfield’s lead guitarist, her songs manage to soar and impress.
The origins of this hoarse, working class, somewhat rock-and-roll swagger are not completely clear, but surely they are influenced by Mayfield’s upbringing in midwestern Ohio; this sound can also be heard in the music of Ohio rock band The Black Keys, and their guitarist Dan Auerbach has worked with Mayfield on multiple occasions, including her first LP, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt; she has lent her voice to Black Keys’ tracks as well. Additionally, both Auerbach’s solo projects and Mayfield’s albums are released on Nonesuch Records.
The crowd was pleased with Mayfield’s set, as clearly many of them were fans of hers before the show began. They swayed and mouthed the words back to her as she sang, as well as yelling out little-known tracks for request and seeming very giddily excited when she proclaimed that she would sing a new, not-yet-recorded piece for them.
The show ended with an encore of a few songs, brought on by many hootin’ and hollerin’ fans. After which, with the last sip of her whiskey, Jessica finished her set. Ultimately, what songs like hers prove is that music with betrayed, gothically dark emotions do not only originate in musical genres like metal or punk, but also in folk and country. It also proves that big emotion comes not only from hulkingly manly lead singers, but small girls with braces.