Justin Townes Earle, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Tom Schraeder | Metro | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader
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Justin Townes Earle, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Tom Schraeder Critic's Choice Early Warnings (Music) Recommended The List (Music) Soundboard

When: Thu., Feb. 10, 9 p.m. 2011
Price: $16
On her new second album, Tell Me (Nonesuch), Jessica Lea Mayfield sticks with understatement, singing in a matter-of-fact conversational drawl that occasionally belies the intensity of her lyrics. "Hate has brought me up / The stairs into your house," she intones flatly on "Our Hearts Are Wrong," a snapshot of a romantic battle of wills where she struggles and fails to hide her feelings. That's one of several songs where she handles her own emotions like a card counter, playing the odds in a calculated way because she's lost big when she's gone with her gut. There's also warmth in Mayfield's cool detachment, though, thanks to her restrained and well-proportioned country-rock melodies and the grace with which producer Dan Auerbach (the Black Keys' front man) shapes the minimal arrangements. On Tell Me, Auerbach employs the same stripped-down feel and hypnotic breakbeats that anchor many of his own band's songs. A handful of the tunes use programmed drum loops, which doesn't always work; the mild electro leanings of "Grown Man" make Mayfield sound like a karaoke singer. Fortunately most of them use flinty grooves and biting electric-guitar bursts that perfectly enhance her chilly delivery, highlighting the distance between the sound and the content of her seductively catchy songs. Justin Townes Earle headlines; Mayfield and Tom Schraeder open. 18+. —Peter Margasak

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