Southern crooner and lyric scrawler Matthew Mayfield is a gifted and prolific storyteller (he has released eight EPs and one full-length album in less than four years). Of course according to his Facebook page he is also a “two-faced son of a bitch,” so take that for what you will. Maybe he’s just a tortured artist or maybe he’s just yanking our chains; either way, the man knows how to write and his tales are evocative and picturesque. Now he is back with his second full-length release and it is a dusty, gritty and stirring journey through the travails of the human heart.
With a molasses-thick delivery whose emotional tone has shades of Adam Duritz by way of Josh Garrels, Mayfield goes for the raw truth on each track, warts and all. When he sings, “I have a crippling fear of seeing you again” on the Americana-folk opener “Ain’t Much More to Say,” you believe it, and his earnest performance on “Take What I Can Get” underscores the desperation he feels about loving a woman he can’t let go of. On the mostly acoustic “Cold Winds” his vocals ebb and flow with the memories of a woman he is no longer with, filling with life as he recalls the contentment she brought him and deflating to barely more than a whisper as he comes back to the reality of her absence. Mayfield’s passionate and unique vocal style makes it hard to lose interest in his songs, even if a lot of them are anything but happy tunes.
Mayfield’s lyrics are as much a study of relationships and discord as they are about what makes us different and the same. The universal rawness of the acoustic number “Heart in Wire” is evident in the tale of two people who are choosing to stay apart despite still being in love with each other, and “I Don’t Know You at All” resonates with the sort of gut-wrenching pain we have all felt at one time or another upon realizing that the person we love is no longer who they used to be. One of the most powerful aspects of this record is Mayfield’s ability to write about experiences—be they good or bad—that are simultaneously specific enough to be stand-alone events and familiar enough that anyone could insert themselves into said story.
While most of the material tends toward the acoustic/Americana realm, Mayfield knows how to throw the occasional change up at the listener. “Track You Down” is a dirty, dark piece of stomp rock whose tale of a tracker seeking his prey will give you chills, and “Take What Can I Get” is one of three songs that features the alternately heavenly and staid vocals of Brooke Annibale, so it isn’t just Mayfield taking center stage by himself from start to finish. Mayfield knows how to avoid doing the same thing over and over again, so he wisely engages in a bit of variety musical variety throughout to make sure we’re paying attention.
Banquet of Ghosts is a deep, painful, engrossing album filled with exquisite joy, crushing sorrow and sublime catharsis. It is not to be missed.