Music News & Reviews

Jessica Lea Mayfield finds a new voice, with a little help from 'Barry'

Jessica Lea Mayfield returns to Cosmic Charlie's on Thursday night.
Jessica Lea Mayfield returns to Cosmic Charlie's on Thursday night.

Jessica Lea Mayfield wasn't feeling particularly great about her music or her career.

Then she met Barry.

No, Barry isn't a fellow rocker or a muse. Barry was a Gretsch Jet Electromatic baritone guitar she found in Louisville's Guitar Emporium. With a slightly longer neck, and tuned down, the baritone — Barry, get it? — axe was just the spark she needed.

"I found this guitar and started writing this album," Mayfield says, referring to Make My Head Sing, which marks a distinct turn in the music of the artist raised on her parents' bluegrass and newgrass tastes.

David and Valerie Mayfield met at an Ohio bluegrass festival and made the music part of their lives, taking Jessica Lea and her older brother David Ray on the road with the group One Way Rider. David now fronts the Nashville-based David Mayfield Parade. The parents are touring again, playing several recent dates at Willie's Locally Known, billing themselves as "Bluegrass empty nesters."

Mayfield acknowledges she has strayed farthest from the nest, particularly with the latest album that sounds like a nice thick dose of 1991 Seattle as the opening track, Oblivious, spills from the speakers. And it makes sense as Mayfield, 25, says she started exploring music outside her parents' record collection watching MTV when it still showed videos.

"I'd watch The Real World thinking, 'Let's get back to the videos," Mayfield recalls.

Bands like Nirvana and Foo Fighters became major influences, and a good match for her haunting voice and dark songwriting.

Mayfield says the new album, a departure from her Americana-leaning 2011 LP Tell Me, matches up well on tour with her first full-length effort: 2008's With Blasphemy So Heartfelt.

"We're playing as a trio on this tour, and that works really well with music from Blasphemy," Mayfield says. "Audiences seem to really like to hear that."

Audiences in Lexington have gotten used to seeing Mayfield at Cosmic Charlie's, where she returns Thursday.

"I'll probably go over to that gas station behind it before the show, and get some Twinkies, hang out and talk to people," Mayfield says. "I love the location there with the Subway and the liquor store. It's a very cool place to play."