With a voice so aching it’s almost unbearable in its confluence of beauty and suffering, Jessica Lea Mayfield is dropping her debut album with no small amount of buzz — all of it justified — and two ringing, high profile endorsements from Scott Avett of the Avett Brothers and the Black Keys’ shaggier half, Dan Auerbach, who produced the album and appears throughout. And damn if it isn’t a knockout; she’s all of 18 (though hardly a rookie, having logged time in family-related bands for a decade already), sports a nose ring, and with every slow-burning meditation on desire and commensurate heartache, you crave the deep, angst-ridden soul in her voice that much more.
As her career develops, it’d be good to hear a bit more variety. Taken as one, straight-through listen, With Blasphemy, So Heartfelt becomes a haze of tortured, restless phrasing shot through with metallic, slurred guitar tones occasionally just shy of psychedelia. Plus, none of the frequent comparisons she’s received already seem particularly accurate; she’d eat that pissy Cat Power alive, for one, and while the frayed garage-blues of the Black Keys is a useful touch point, Mayfield’s not really a bash-things-out kinda gal, and her music isn’t merely Dan and Patrick feminized (a suggestion that’d be not only over-simplification but, yeah, a disservice to both her and the Akron howlers). No, Mayfield’s got her own knives to twist, most of all “We’ve Never Lied”, which begins in resignation (“Kiss me like you love me / I’ll pretend we’ve never lied”) but is actually a pronouncement soaked in acid (“And I kiss you like I want you to kiss me / And I’ll talk to whoever I goddam wanna”). Cat Power? That old softy? Please.