If you hadn’t heard her music, you would be forgiven for thinking that Jessica Lea Mayfield makes traditional singer-songwriter music, but you would be wrong. Mayfield began her music career at age 8, playing in her family’s bluegrass band. Within a few years, she was writing her own songs and performing around her hometown of Kent, Ohio. At 15, she released an EP of acoustic-based music, White Lies, that caught the attention of fellow Ohioan Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys.
Auerbach invited her to sing on his band’s Attack and Release and produced her full-length debut. Dan Auerbach is one of the music world’s most famous revivalists, and so you might assume that Mayfield’s records would sound as instantly familiar as Tracy Chapman.
But Mayfield’s songs demand something a little different. Your first clue would be the title of that 2008 release, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt. The title comes from the song “Bible Days,” in which Mayfield sings, “Get thee behind me Jesus/ I’ve given up on you.” She wasn’t old enough to vote at the time she recorded that song, but her voice sounded convincingly world-weary, and Auerbach coated it in a foreboding reverb. For the follow-up record, last year’s Tell Me, Mayfield is surrounded by both Auerbach’s swamp-blues guitars and electronic drums. In the single “Our Hearts Are Wrong,” she sounds like she’s singing in her sleep, while having bad dreams. In “Grown Man,” she lazily sings, “There isn’t much I wouldn’t let...you whisper in my ear.” Somehow, the fact that she’s backed up by a cheap-sounding keyboard makes those words sound especially filthy, and also hauntingly sad.
Langhorne Slim and the Law also perform.
JESSICA LEA MAYFIELD: The Casbah, Friday, August 10, 8:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. $12 advance/$14 door.