The rise of indie/neo/contemporary/whatever you want to call the wave of folk- and bluegrass-influenced music has provided a nice jolt of old-school musicality to the mainstream pop world. (Mostly) bearded bands such as Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers and Arcade Fire have become award-winning, critical and commercial darlings, taking an old-time acoustic sound and placing it in contemporary pop forms.
Kent-bred, Warren-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist David Mayfield, brother of acclaimed singer/songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield, has been making and performing music for much of his life as part of a family band, One Way Rider. As an adult, he has performed with the Avett Brothers and was a member of the newgrass group Cadillac Sky before going solo.
On Tuesday, Mayfield’s primary project, the David Mayfield Parade, released its second album, Good Man Down. The album was entirely funded by his growing throng of enthusiastic fans through a Kickstarter campaign, which surpassed its original goal of $18,000 by nearly $25,000, and Mayfield has put the donations to good use.
Primarily driven by acoustic instruments, the album sounds warm and natural, and was recorded in two legendary studios in Nashville: RCA B, where more than 200 Elvis Presley tunes were recorded, and the Quonset Hut, where icons such as Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan and Loretta Lynn have graced its hallowed rooms.
Mayfield also went all out on the packaging; besides the creepy, ambiguous cover photo of a masked, suited Mayfield holding a lioness head, there is also a comic book included. As for the music contained therein, his roots are clearly in bluegrass, folk and Americana, but he also deftly incorporates a few fuzzed-up power chords, a touch of the blues and other surprises.
Mayfield’s high, clear, singing voice often recalls a less urbane James Taylor, and he’s surrounded himself with talented sympathetic musicians, mixing acoustic and electric instruments and sounding more like a well-oiled live band than a congregation of studio aces. He sings quite a bit about love, starting with the laid-back countrified opener, Love Will Only Break Your Heart.
The down-tempo, lovelorn From a Dream sports some 1970s Laurel Canyon-style backing vocals, while Another Year reaches back to gospel and field hollers, with Mayfield and bluegrass band Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver engaging in call-and-response harmony vocals, giving gravitas to Mayfield’s song about these tense, fractured times in which we live: “Well, there’s many freaks of every shade / some are born and some are made / there’s many signs of wicked times / on either side of the protest lines.”
Mayfield goes straight-ahead country-rock for an ode to having a good woman, The Willow and the Babe, and enlists his good buddy, country star Dierks Bentley, for the catchy country-pop duet Tempted with Bentley’s gravelly voice contrasting and blending well with Mayfield’s higher, lonesome tenor.
On the wonderfully and deceptively complex and slightly morose Little Blue Car, Mayfield smoothly incorporates strings, a flamenco rhythm, twangy country guitar, mandolin, and fiddle and acoustic guitar solos while pleadingly asking “Where is the Prince of Peace when you need him / too many people waiting to believe in something.”
Mayfield allows his talented musicians to shred on two Superfluous Instrumentals and flexes his indie-rock muscles a bit on the thumping your-love-is-dangerous song Trapped Under the Ice and a hard-rock-riff coda to the otherwise string-driven, love-lost ballad Was It Only Me.
For the 322 people who donated to Mayfield’s Kickstarter, Good Man Down was money well spent, as Mayfield has developed a more refined sound and better songwriting chops than on his well-received 2010 debut The Parade. Mayfield and his band have built a reputation for being a theatrical live act and Good Man Down has given him a dozen more good tunes to add to his onstage arsenal.