David Mayfield’s sophomore album, “Good Man Down,” is one of my favorite records of the year. It goes beyond the bluegrass, folk, and old-time honky-tonk n’ roll that colored his impressive solo debut, “The Parade,” and what he did as a sideman with sister Jessica Lea Mayfield and forward thinking bluegrassers Cadillac Sky.
On “Good Man Down” a reinvention of Cadillac Sky’s “Trapped Under Ice” rumbles with rock n’ roll thunder, while “Was It Only Me” is one of the most moving tracks I’ve heard in years. Mayfield ups the ante on the intimate song by shifting from beautiful strings to a heavy psychedelic freak-out finale. “Human Cannonball,” which I believe Mayfield played during last winter’s tour with his sister Jessica Lea, swells into a heartbreaking, grand love story.
There’s still plenty anchored in his bluegrass roots. “Another Year,” which features harmony from bluegrass legends Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and the fiddle-driven opener “Love Will Only Break Your Heart,” which features Seth Avett on guest vocals, are both classic folk-grass centerpieces. “The Willow and the Babe” reminds me of the progressive newgrass my dad listened to when I was a kid. It’s positive, wide in scope, and full of interesting instrumental phrasing, but doesn’t leave catchy, pop sensibilities behind. What’s more these different sides of Mayfield’s musical personality gel and make for a diverse yet cohesive record.
Mayfield plays Double Door Inn Saturday.
Coincidentally two artists that recently worked with the Ohio based producer/musician share the stage at Jam for Cam at NC Music Factory’s The Saloon that very same night. Mayfield produced new albums by Greenville cellist and singer-songwriter Sarah Clanton Schaffer and Bristol, Virginia’s Annabelle’s Curse. Schaffer and Annabelle’s Curse actually met at Suma Studios in Ohio where both recorded with Mayfield.
Both acts fall under that broad umbrella known as Americana, but, like Mayfield, roots music doesn’t entirely cover what either act does.
Schaffer’s album, “Chasin’ a Feeling,” isn’t predictable cello rock (not that cello rock is all that common). Her songs are textured, fully-formed entities that happen to feature cello as well as several other instruments including her versatile and gutsy voice. She demonstrates Fiona Apple-style sass on “Dragons in the Kitchen” (which you can hear in the above clip) and plays with jazz and blues melodies on “Not Cool” and the title track. She’s a playful lyricist on “Banana Song,” a quality that probably served her well when she was on the road touring with Mayfield.
She’s hard to pin down as an arranger and vocalist. Her phrasing sometimes hints at Beth Gibbons from Portishead whereas “Just One Kiss” - a really beautiful classic country-rooted love song - could’ve been a hit for Anne Murray or Olivia Newton John circa 1975. At times Schaffer channels that positive country and rock straddling AM pop.
Annabelle’s Curse’s “Hollow Creature” begins like a mix of `90s pop-rock radio and the harmony-driven contemporary folk-rock that’s so hot right now. It’s like Death Cab for Cutie and Arcade Fire raised in the valleys of Virginia singing harmonies and soaking up weekend pickin’ parties. Annabelle’s Curse certainly shares qualities with what I think of “Hey!” bands like Of Monsters and Men and the Last Bison - bands that raise spirits and create gospel-like revivals with group-shouts and bouncing acoustic boot-stompers. “Regret, VA” contains shouts of “Hey!”, but Annabelle’s Curse differentiates itself with that aforementioned Death Cab-like undercurrent and by keeping that uplifting spirit to a minimum. It delves into trippy, dramatic psychedelia on the heavier title track, for instance, demonstrating its own broad pallet while remaining tied to bluegrass and roots music through nimble picking and rich harmonies.
As with Mayfield, neither group is a one trick (or style) pony. And as with “Good Man Down,” both albums are diverse and eclectic and impressive on several levels. While the coincidence of them playing the same night as their producer is kind of neat, it also makes it difficult to be at two shows at once. Maybe there will be an after show jam somewhere between Elizabeth and Graham St. Cross your fingers.