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Jessica Lea Mayfield: Tell Me (Nonesuch) 

It's tempting to look down the list of song titles from 21-year-old Ohio singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield—"I'll Be the One You Want Someday," "Our Hearts Are Wrong," "Trouble," "Nervous Lonely Night," "Run Myself Into the Ground"—and expect "woe is me."

But Tell Me is actually a record about dark impulses, about losing self-control and the careening damage of careless lovers. "All that I can think about are things I should not do," Mayfield sings on the first song, and the rest of the way is filled with the fallout of those brutal, cold-hearted choices.

What's most impressive is Mayfield's what-will-she-say-next candor: "I broke the little cabana boy's heart to let you fondle me in the dark," she sings on "Sometimes at Night."

On "Trouble," Mayfield sings, "You overheard us doing blow in the bathroom. I was kissing, holding hands with some other girl's grown man." On "Somewhere in Your Heart," it's, "I'd rather die young and be forgotten than live to grow old loving you."

Even the album's more positive lyrics—"Suddenly I can see blue skies again"—are about an emergence from some dark place.

Produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, Tell Me deals with extreme darkness and sadness, but by writing her lyrics with a stark, matter-of-fact honesty rather than in confessional tones, Mayfield keeps things from sliding into downer territory.

More by Eric Swedlund

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