Local songwriter channels an outlaw spirit into new rock record by
Matthew Mayfield is obsessed with freedom. He admits it himself, and you only have to look at the twisted vein of his history to see that the man has been constantly reinventing himself as a means of survival. He escaped the rigid confines of college for the fever dreams of promised rock stardom. When corporate indifference helped destroy his band Moses Mayfield and his moment for majorlabel success lay in shambles around him, he escaped to the comforts of hometown Birmingham to lick his wounds and regroup. Soon healed, he emerged as a singer-songwriter with hurt to share and a voice that ached with injuries past, and has been steadily releasing EPs ever since, including his latest, Matthew Mayfield and the Blue Cut Robbery.
His new record is anything but more of the same. Mayfield’s new identity may have garnered him a national following, radio airplay and tracks on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack, but is he content to settle into a groove and enjoy what moderate success has been afforded him? No. Instead he has released a record radically different from any of his earlier efforts, a record full of searing guitar riffs and chunky bass lines, raucous shouts and punishing drums—in other words, a rock record. “Yeah, it’s definitely something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” says Mayfield. “I love being a singer-songwriter, but I also love playing electric guitar. I grew up on Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and Guns and Roses. They’re two different animals, you know, but both equal parts of who I am. The singer-songwriter thing is a huge part of my heart, and I feel like with this it’s more about the vibe and the spirit and the riff.”
Matthew isn’t alone for this one either. The Blue Cut Robbery in the album title isn’t just a reference to Jesse James’ famous last heist, it’s Mayfield’s new band. To fill the ranks, he’s dipped into the well of compatriots past to recruit former Moses Mayfield drummer Wil Drake and Stewart Vann, an old friend and member of the original Moses Mayfield back when Matthew was 18 years old. “The first time we got together, which was probably about a year and a half ago, it was the three of us at Stewart’s grandfather’s old house in Hueytown,” Mayfield recalls. ”We played through what became the songs “Good Girls” and “Swamp” and it was so loud that (a) the entire house was shaking and (b) the police got called and we were shut down. The interesting thing was that the people who called the cops weren’t the neighbors but a person one block over and five houses down. It was a long way away for them to hear us and call the police. They were not happy about it. Needless to say we had to find another storage shed to practice in, bccause that was not going to fly. We’re the loudest band I’ve ever heard.”
The record is indeed a loud one. It is front-loaded with the best track, a blistering number called “The End is Near” with great breaks and a hell of a gritty rock groan, and stays strong through the third track “Swamp,” but devolves into muddled cliché a bit in the wind-down. This doesn’t matter because, at five tracks and 18 minutes, the record gets by on the strength of its upfront one-two punch. It also helps that Mayfield really can play the bejeebus out of some electric guitar. He even has one or two flights into the higher registers you might refer to as “shredding,” if you were inclined to use such a term. I would never.
I know what you’re thinking: “We’re tired of reading your babble, old man, just tell us where we can get our grubby little mitts on this stuff so we can go back to staring into our phone screens.” Fine, I’ll give you young whippersnappers what you want. Matthew Mayfield and the Blue Cut Robbery is streaming live and available for purchase at www.matthewmayfield.com/album/mmbluecutrobbery. You can also download a free track there, so don’t say I (or Matthew Mayfield) never gave you anything.
Sam George is a staff writer for Birmingham Weekly, concerning himself with popular music and, increasingly, other topics. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.