Landing on a cross-section between Nirvana and She & Him, Jessica Lea Mayfield is a chanteuse with an evident nostalgia for 90’s grunge. On her latest album Sorry is Gone [ATO Records, September 2017], this stylistic amalgamation leads to mostly great results.
Mayfield makes it clear right at the start that she isn’t making a coffee house record. The fuzzed out guitars and slinky solos on “Wish you Could See Me Now” immediately recall the heyday of alt. rock radio, and Mayfield wants everyone to know she’s not planning on being anyone’s darling, “I’m a good girl now, I can hardly stand it” she sings in an apathetic drawl.
“Soaked Through” and “Bum Me Out” show off how heavy Mayfield is able to get, though as she’s not a punk screamer like Courtney Love, she often relies on overdubbed vocals to add a touch of the ominous and psychedelic to these tunes. Mayfield wisely counters the darkness in the latter song with her lyrics, singing “I’m not going to let it bum me out too”.
This desire for a heavier sound doesn’t always play to her strengths, as tracks like “World Won’t Stop” become grating as she laments that the world won’t stop hurting her while accompanied by monotone base and guitar effects. It’s really when the distortion is turned down that Mayfield’s real strengths as a songwriter shine. She knocks it out of the park with “Offa My Hands”, a cooing country-rock kiss-off that is musically welcoming while still keeping its attitude, and “WTF” has a sublime arrangement that would sound like the soundtrack of Cobain rising to the pearly gates.
Themes of strength battling uncertainty and fear lace the album with a feeling of unease. On the opener and title track, the narrator is ready to be empowered, “Help me forgive what I’ve done wrong, so I can do whatever I want.” But then comes vulnerability as Mayfield asks “Can I trust you now for sure?” (“Meadow”) and even more as she claims “I can’t trust myself” (“Maybe Whatever”).The true heartbreak is in the hazy loneliness ballad “Too Much Terrible”, where Mayfield realizes “Everywhere I went, I felt like something was missing”. It’s a fitting cap to Sorry is Gone‘s journey of ups and downs, kiss-offs and pleas.
Mayfield has a lot of range as a songwriter, though there remains a moodiness infused in even her perkiest tracks. She manages to convey a lot through her subtle, quiet vocals, but it would be energizing at some point to hear the anger she’s so obviously feeling on certain tracks (a scream like her idol Dave Grohl‘s could go a long way here). Thankfully, she knows how to rock in all the other right places.