The biggest challenge facing the precocious Jessica Lea Mayfield must be how to separate herself from an army of similarly angel-voiced female singer-songwriters. Surely there aren't enough iTunes commercials or Kindle campaigns to feature all of them, no matter how deserving their talents, how dreamy their vocals, how soul-searching their lyrics.
Lucky for Mayfield, she has a little something the others don't: producer Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. On Mayfield's sophomore effort, Auerbach takes the 21-year-old's seductively soft and surprisingly sage verses, and laces them with just enough sonic punch to push them into your memory. There's tremolo guitar on "Tell Me," a lonesome electric guitar and piano on "I'll Be the One You Want Someday," an off-kilter pop sheen to "Blue Skies Again" and a gut-rattling bass line on "Our Hearts Our Wrong." The sound settles somewhere between Wilco and Neko Case, with each track displaying a patience and assurance that belie Mayfield's age.
Auerbach may deserve credit for the production, but the writing is all Mayfield. Complicated love fills these songs, but nothing's ever trite. For instance, she reassures a cautious older lover in "Grown Man" by telling him, "There's not much I wouldn't let you whisper in my ear." The fact that it's set against a strangely sultry Casio-like beat makes it all the better.