Friday, September 18, 2009

Reviews and Recommendations Take One


REVIEW- FIVE CHANCES REMAIN HERS (2009, Self-released): Matthew Mayfield is returning to his roots. This 6-song EP kicks off with “Open Road,” a number that features lush orchestration including a full rock band set up (guitars, bass, and drums), as well as impressive violin work by Birmingham’s Jeanette Brabston. The lyrics explore the trials and tribulations of the touring lifestyle, as well as the emotions Mayfield has kept bottled up for the last few years. The song reaches its full potential in the climatic bridge (I’ve been deserted/my feelings perverted/by a ripped off and pissed off machine cycle circus/When we look in the mirror/it shatters with shame).
The rest of the album follows suit with Mayfield shining on the middle three songs (“Lives Entwined,” “Timeless Art,” and “Better”). The trio chronicles a relationship through the fights between Mayfield and a significant other, fighting for that person, and then Mayfield asking for reconciliation and change (“For you/for me/make me a better man”). Some fans may disagree with Mayfield’s return to the full band setting, especially those who thoroughly enjoyed the simplicity of The Fire EP. However, Mayfield’s songwriting legacy and the affordable price of the CD itself ($4.99 at Barnes and Noble), allows you a chance to support local music and contribute to the thriving Birmingham “scene” that continues to grow with each new artist.
RECOMMENDATION- THE FIRE EP (2008, Self-released): Raw emotions and unrefined musicality populate Matthew Mayfield’s first solo EP. Written a few months after the demise of Moses Mayfield, he composes eight acoustic numbers that he records in a home studio for under $1000, an album where Mayfield “just let the mistakes stay…[the CD] feels more honest that way.” Standout tracks include “Razorblade,” Live 100.5 staple “Dead to You,” an acoustic version of Moses Mayfield’s “Element,” and two songs that I’ve heard at three weddings this summer, “By Your Side” and “First in Line.”
REVIEW- WILCO (THE ALBUM) [2009, Nonesuch Records]: “Are times getting tough/Are the roads you travel rough,” sings Jeff Tweedy on Wilco’s seventh full length studio album. The Chicago-based band has received an assortment of labels over their 15 year career, including, but not limited to “alt-country,” “experimental,” “avant-garde,” and most recently, “dad rock.” The fact that the first and previously quoted song “Wilco (The Song)” is basically an infomercial about the band (“Wilco will love you baby”) seems to affirm what Tweedy said to American Songwriter magazine in June; that (The Album) is just “a goofy pop record.”
Don’t let this statement fool you, though. Once you get into the middle of the record, the standout tracks become apparent. “You and I” features a duet with Feist, the singer/songwriter who brought the world the catchy, Sesame Street-friendly “1 2 3 4.” “You Never Know” points out the disagreements between religious groups about the end of the world. Tweedy explores his own spiritual journey in “Everlasting Everything” and “Solitaire”; the latter has Tweedy calling himself a fool for believing that there was nothing bigger than himself.
Finally, the somewhat controversial “I’ll Fight for You,” features a soldier fighting for the freedoms of an unaware rich man, to whom he addresses the song. In the closing stanza, the character compares himself to Christ (“I’ll die like Jesus on the cross/My faith will not be lost/if my love comes across”). Though many people may patronize this lyric, they must acknowledge the fact that several movies portray Christ-like figures and symbolism; Tweedy just happened to verbalize the idea in song.
RECOMMENDATION – YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT (2002, Nonesuch Records): Once upon a time, Warner Brothers subsidiary, Reprise Records, made a huge mistake. After listening to Wilco’s demos for what would become Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, they claimed that the disc had no potential singles and essentially no commercial value. The band bought the tapes for a reported $50,000, transferred to their current label, Nonesuch Records, and released one of the most influential albums of the last 10 years, with praise littering the pages of several well-known publications. Standout songs include the string-soaked “Jesus, Etc.”, the conflict-themed “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” the instantly recognizable riff of “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” the relentlessly catchy “Heavy Metal Drummer,” and the political “Ashes of American Flags.” The follow up, 2004’s A Ghost is Born, may have won the Grammy, but YHF remains the perfect introduction to Jeff Tweedy and Co.

Matthew Mayfield Interview 9/18/09

This summer, Birmingham singer/songwriter, Matthew Mayfield, released his second EP, Five Chances Remain Hers. Some may remember Mayfield as the frontman for Moses Mayfield, a Birmingham-based alternative rock band who was picked up by Columbia/Sony BMG in 2006. They toured the country for the next year, playing shows with Will Hoge, Switchfoot, The Fray, and Pete Yorn. However, corporate layoffs, including Moses’s Artist and Repertoire executive, left the band with an undetermined fate. Even with a promising debut LP, The Inside, Columbia dropped the band from its roster near the end of 2007. January 2008 saw the break-up of Moses Mayfield, and Matthew Mayfield took the emotions from this experience and wrote them into his first solo EP, The Fire. The album was well received by Birmingham music listeners and Mayfield began rebuilding his career, playing several shows at Birmingham’s Workplay Theatre, the Speakeasy, Barnes and Noble at Patton Creek, along with other local and regional venues. In April 2009, he went to Nashville and recorded Five Chances with producer Paul Moak. I had the chance to talk with Mayfield about the new release as well as his fall tour dates with Dylan Sneed, Needtobreathe, and Serena Ryder.
CKD: Describe the recording process of "Five Chances" compared to "Fire."

MM: Well the first solo record was mostly just me and my guitar for the most part. I loved that. It was completely bare bones--which was the move I wanted to make at the time. On 'Five Chances' I had a band playing with me--but we kept the live vibe by tracking it all in the same room and picking the take that felt the best. There was no slaving over the 'perfect' sound. We just played things til they felt right. The sounds on this record are incredible. We wanted to keep the focus on the vocal--but have some other elements in the atmosphere for texture. I'm really happy with the way it turned out.

CKD: What's the story behind the album’s name?
MM: It's a russian roulette reference. 'One's locked in the chamber...and five chances remain hers'

CKD: Are the majority of the songs new material, or ones that you've been holding onto until the right moment?

MM: All of the songs on 'Five Chances...' were written way before we started recording with the exception of 'Lives Entwined.'. That one showed up while we were mixing. I kept playing it in the other room and one day Paul was like 'what's THAT?'. We cut it and mixed it the next day top to bottom.

CKD: What song means the most to you and why?

MM: It's tough to pick just one. I'd say 'Open Road' is my favorite. It's the most dynamically sound of all the songs and there's an unmatched urgency in the performances all around. The strings are gorgeous, the drums are heavy, the bass lines are ridiculous--pretty much all the things I can't take any credit for are the jewels in my eyes. :) That song takes the most out of me. It's a really triumphant song--which is rare for in my catalog. Afterwards singing or playing or listening-- I feel like I just ran the race...and for once, I won.

CKD: You explore themes of fighting and reconciliation in several of the songs, particularly tracks 3-5. Could you describe how you feel these concepts fit into love as well as relationships in general?

MM: Yeah--I suppose there is a yearning to fight and to be fought for all over this record. It's been a rough few years in a lot of ways relationally. When it's clear you're doing the majority of the fighting--it's hard to not feel mistreated. It took a long time for me to realize--but that's no way to live. You can't lay yourself on the line time and time again without getting something'll crack. I did. We all do.

CKD: How has touring been? Do you still play mainly solo sets or do you have a band backing you up now?

MM: It's been great. I feel like the sets are getting better and better with time. I play with a band when I can--but most of the dates are solo acoustic. I dig both. I love changing it up...keeps me on my toes. We've got a full band show coming up in front of the Fray up at Big Spring Jam in Huntsville on September 26th. It will be our first time to play these songs full band on a huge stage. Should be a blast.

CKD: What goals do you have for this next year, year and a half?

MM: I'm gonna just keep riding this wave as long as it will take me. I've got some great shows lined up with Needtobreathe and Serena Ryder as well as some other dates in the works. It's just a day at a time at this point. I'm just trying to make it from Tuesday to Thursday. One foot in front of the other.

Matthew Mayfield will be playing at Workplay Theatre in Birmingham with Needtobreathe and Serena Ryder on October 3rd and 4th. His albums are available on Itunes, at Barnes and Noble in Patton Creek and the Summit, or you can pick one up at a show. Check out his Myspace at