Matthew Mayfield - Now You're Free
Producer: Paul Moak
Release Date: April 5th, 2011
Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama
"Sing til you mean it / and love til you feel it / cos’ I still believe in your heart / don’t let the waves push and pull you away / now you’re free and it sets you apart..." reads the chorus of the title track from Matthew Mayfield's fantastic full length debut, Now You're Free. Although this is his first full length as an independent artist, this Alabama rocker is far from new to the show. He's got an impressive number of EPs under his belt already and his experience shows. His swooning voice, guitar work, and unforgettable melodies combine into a unique blend of southern rock that delivers in both an acoustic and full band fashion.
There's not a second that goes by that's not bursting from the seams with passion. Mayfield weaves together tear jerking ballads ("Element," "Can't Change My Mind") with rock n' roll rally cries ("Missed Me," "Man-Made Machines") and even combines the two ("Now You're Free"). The sound he captures is distinct, yet widely appealing.
The album opens with the carefree strumming and longing melodies of "Come Back Home." It's a great start if you're new to Mayfield's work. The song simmers gently before boiling up in its final minute; it's here that we are introduced to the inner voice of Mayfield when he belts out: "Oh, come back / won't you come back home to me?" over chanting vocals in the distance.
There's something clearly American about Matthew's music. I can't help but think of open roads and rolling hills throughout the record. There's a strong vibe in "Missed Me" (Fire and rocknroll / they've been crawling through my veins / grab your best dress honey and let's ride the interstate) which carries the energy put forth in the tail end of "Come Back Home." A brilliantly uplifting and infectious anthem, "Missed Me" is everything a song should be. Not only is it a standout from the album, but it's one of the best songs I've heard in a long time.
Being his first full-length, Mayfield put together an all-star ensemble with Paul Moak producing and playing guitar, Tony Lucido on bass, Will Sayles on drums, and Cason Cooley on the keys. The team worked so well together that most of the album ended up being tracked live. Working with a team as a solo artist can be a struggle, especially with a producer who's a musician. I asked Matthew about working with Moak: "That guy is brilliant. So musical and so talented. He plays every instrument and he approaches production like an artist which I really appreciate. When we first started working together, we fought a lot because we both want things done our way. But the minute we put our pride down and started to serve the songs, we were on fire. He's never once tried to change me as a writer, a guitar player, or a singer. He' s just always tried to make me better. I need those kind of people around me at all times."
Matthew's inspirations appear in "Man Made Machines" which hosts a pounding refrain with Matthew belting: "To summon man-made machines / to silence the screams / of the children in our dreams / and we watch as God-fearing men / open the gates / just to close them in our face." I asked Matthew a little more about this track, and he helped me crack it wide open: "As human beings, we often try so hard to squash ourselves and our dreams without even thinking about it. The world we live in and the performance-driven culture have a strange way of making us feel like we must shove all the dreams aside. I believe that true happiness is found in the simple things...in the hope, dreams, and heart of a child." The second verse features an homage to Pearl Jam's "Leash" ("I'm lost, I'm no guide / but I'm by your side"). "That is one of the kindest things you could ever say to someone," Mayfield stated about the reference. "I wanted to pay a small tribute to him [Vedder]... ."
"Now You're Free" and "Element" form the heart of the record. They exude a certain fervor that flows all the way until the very end of the record. The former actually escaped me at first before becoming my favorite from the whole album. "I was finally getting passed some old demons that had me chained down for a long time and to me, that melody felt like freedom," Matthew mentioned about "Now You're Free." "When you're making a record, you always have a 'baby'. A song that no matter what happens in the studio, you HAVE to do it justice. And for me, that was 'Now You're Free.'"
"A Cycle" and "Tonight" form another notable duo on the album. At this point, the pure physique of Matthew's material becomes apparent. We're nine tracks in and he has no sign of letting up. "Tonight" almost fell off the album, until producer Paul Moak pushed for it. After the album was completed, the team came together to listen: "When we finished it and we were all listening down to the mix, everyone looked over at me like 'you didn't want THIS to be on your record? Idiot.' They were right. I just couldn't see it from the start. <smiles>"
"Can't Change Your Mind" is both emotionally destroying and catching. It hosts one of my favorite lyric sets: "You came forward on the shoulders / of giant waves pulled from corners / of oceans-violent and tortured / why...those eyes?" which then leads into the most memorable pre-chorus/chorus set of the record. The melody, coupled with the infatuating guitar make this a staple of the album's back end.
The guitar work in "Can't Change Your Mind" is just a sample of the fantastic musicianship found throughout the record. "Come Back Home" boasts a simple, yet captivating rhythm, while "Missed Me"s mobilizing riff and "A Cycle"'s guitar solo impress even further.
There's really something for everyone here. If it's not the heartfelt lyrics that'll get you, it's the melodies and instrumentation that'll hook you in. I can't find a single significant flaw in this album. It's seamless, well thought out, and incredibly robust. There's a great quote from a recent interview with Matthew: "I want to be a career artist, I've had many opportunities to get shot out of a cannon... there are people that say 'Hey we'll make you really famous really quick.' I don't want to be famous... I just want to have a career." (Go here to watch that interview.) It's this honesty that will set Mayfield apart in the years to come.
Mayfield released another full-length in May of 2012, A Banquet For Ghosts and has another EP, Irons In The Fire, that will be released on June 11th. You can read my review for that here.