We’ve been pretty big fans of Matthew Mayfield for a while so he hardly seems “emerging” to us anymore. But since some of you probably aren’t privy to this musical genius, we thought we should feature his latest album Banquet for Ghosts. Mayfield’s music is a wonderful blend of melodic pop and southern rock topped off with the kind of raspy vocals that are unique, if comforting.
We got a chance to interview the ever humble Mayfield last year when he opened for NeedToBreathe. That night he gave away copies of his EP Now I’m Free to fans in attendance. This latest album carries over that combination of generosity and good music. Funded in record time on Kickstarter, Mayfield is helping to forge a new model of music making in the 21st century (and part of what we’re all about here at EarToTheGround) because he doesn’t have a corporate machine telling him what to write about or how to sing his songs or what venue to play. He’s doing it on his own. And he’s doing it right.
Some of the new songs have a very familiar flavor. “Take What I Can Get” sounds like it could have come off of Now I’m Free with its airy sentimentalism. That said, we were big fans of Mayfield’s earlier work, so more of the same is great. It connotes an adventure like a trip across a desert. We’ve written before that Mayfield writes great roadtrip music and this song is in that vein, for sure.
One of Mayfield’s characteristic strengths is his ability to sing a mood. “Cold Winds” is a perfect track to illustrate that concept. The song itself begins a bit lower and honestly is “chilling.” The chording, the harmonies, and the lyrics all work together as a cohesive whole. As the song builds, it takes the listener out of the chilling beginning and into a hopefulness of “spring,” which he mentions in the lyrics. The full sound of the rest of the band, including a piano, and absolutely stunning harmonies make this one of the best songs on the album. It is, in a lot of ways, the fulfillment of the potential we heard in some of Mayfield’s earlier work. This one will be tough to top.
“Track You Down” helps listeners remember that Matthew Mayfield is a proud southern rocker. It’s got the roots of southern blues and the guitar licks to hang in that genre. The lyrics are cold and foreboding, but we mean that in the most endearing way. The balance of rhythm and the fiddle part are reminiscent of the best of the Charlie Daniels’ Band. The song itself has a remarkable sound that seems to combine the best of 90s “modern” rock with 70s southern rock. It’s cool. Give it a try.
The repetitive “This ain’t right…” lyric at the beginning of “Heart in Wine” lets the listener know immediately that it’s a heartbreak song. What Mayfield does with the end of the verse in the song is a simple finger pick on the guitar that really makes the intimacy emerge. “I still love you, you still love me, that ain’t my imagination.” It’s not the most complex lyric, but it resonates with anyone who has ever drown their sorrows following a breakup. The raspy sincerity in Mayfield’s vocals make it a fantastic song sure to fill the ipods of many lovelorn listeners.
“Carry Me” and “Always Be You” are also typical Mayfield songs in a good way. The refrain on “Carry Me” is chilling. The meandering melody on “Always Be You” is similar to a few other Mayfield tunes from his previous work. What we’re consistently impressed with in his music is the incredible ability to utilize dynamics in a meaningful way. His crescendos build to an actual climax in the song that is often met with both lyrical and sonic features. Not only is that rare in music today, it’s extremely difficult to do in songwriting. Being able to do all of that with a characteristic style and flavor is classic.
One day people are going to look back at these years in Matthew Mayfield’s career as only the beginning. His talent is unprecedented. What he does better than most other artists is bend genres in an exciting way to create something truly unique. He doesn’t mimic, but he shows influences from great musicians. We’re excited to hear more from him. Our advice to him comes from his own lyric. “Always… always… be you.”