“Every single DNA strand, gonna wash you offa my hands.”
So sings Jessica Lea Mayfield at the heart of “Sorry is Gone,” a difficult but extraordinary new album, against a blast of power-pop celebration that buoys the generally hushed, country intent of her singing.
That, as it turns out, is one of the record’s lighter moments. “Sorry is Gone,” at heart, details the journey out of the darkness of an abusive relationship — or in Mayfield’s case, marriage.
It presents a story told with music that is as heavy and blunt as its story line, as in the case of the Cage the Elephant-style guitar battalion that ignites the album-opening “Wish You Could See Me Now.” Aiding Mayfield here are producer John Agnello (whose client list includes Sonic Youth, Kurt Vile and Dinosaur Jr.) and a pack of high-profile pals including Seth Avett (of the Avett Brothers), who was Mayfield’s recording partner on a 2015 album of Elliot Smith songs.
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But “Sorry is Gone” is fully Mayfield’s story, and no matter how celebrated the guest list becomes, the album’s full narrative and musical weight falls on her shoulders.
Her response comes through in “Soaked Through,” in which her reverb-drenched voice echoes from inside a cavern of guitar ambience and ragged battleship chain links of percussion. It is a song of intended but incomplete escape, with the underlying helplessness quickly becoming dangerously oppressive (“He shook me and cried and he said, ‘Please stay.’ So I stayed … a little longer.”)
In the album’s most savage turn, the electric squall of “Soaked Through” gives way to the acoustic “Safe 2 Connect 2.” But the sonic retreat is really just a morning-after view of domestic wreckage. “Any tips on how to feel more human or how to un-dehumanize someone?” the singer requests in a battered vocal monotone. “I’m only asking for a friend.”
There isn’t any real resolution to the demolition sitting at the heart of “Sorry is Gone.” As the album winds to a close with “Too Much Terrible,” the light but luminous country lilt of Mayfield’s vocal crests over a gentler chiming of guitars. But the song’s confessional stance brings little sense of solace. It’s the aural equivalent of rolling up a sleeve, only the aim is less about flexing a muscle than revealing a gallery of bruises and scars. “I can speak to you in song,” Mayfield confides. “But I can’t look you in the eye.”
Released before the Harvey Weinstein avalanche of sexual misconduct charges, which, hopefully, have helped change everyday dialogue on the roots of such abuse, “Sorry is Gone” is a triumphant but bloodied manifesto — a record of remarkable depth, candor and, sadly, timeliness.
Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com