Jessica Lea Mayfield: 'Tell Me'

Jessica Lea Mayfield

Tell Me (Nonesuch)

Jessica Lea Mayfield has the voice of an Appalachian angel, but the 21-year-old Ohio native already sounds world-weary on her sophomore full-length, Tell Me. In the slow-motion jazz-noir highlight "Trouble," Mayfield twangs out a morose tale of twisted romance over tremolo guitars and upright bass: "You overheard us doin' blow in the bathroom/I was kissin', holdin' hands/With some other girl's grown man." Mayfield's voice is patient and thin, refreshingly void of vibrato and completely unpretentious. The subject matter is midnight black—in the heartbreaking acoustic ballad "Nervous Lonely Night," she gets a little too close for comfort ("I broke the little cabana boy's heart/To let you fondle me in the dark"), but the darkness is balanced out by Mayfield's knack for simple, ear-grabbing melodies, which unfurl in breathy, dream-like sighs.

Produced by Black Keys frontman/fellow Ohioan Dan Auerbach, Tell Me drifts by on waves of creamy guitar effects and raw drum loops; the arrangements are spacious—every chord and vocal harmony and bass thump arrives with maximum impact. There's an air of sexuality and sublime mystery on display, perfectly reflected by the album cover: Mayfield standing, hands tense and folded, staring wide-eyed back at the photographer through a blanket of moody chiaroscuro lighting. On "Sleepless," she closes this brilliant coming-out party with a stark meditation on loneliness and desperation. It's just Mayfield, a few chords on an acoustic guitar, and a bone-chilling statement: "My momma said that no one can stop me." At this rate, no one's arguing.