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Over time, artists more or less tell you who they are as people through their own compositions.

You can generally tell by the subjects they choose if they’re romantics or cynics, you can guage by the lines they write whether they view life’s glass as half empty or half full and you can always get a sense of their own personalities based on how they frame their work.

Yet rarely do we see someone give you a full psychological break-down of themselves as Percy Mayfield does here.


Always Singing Sad Songs
Most of the broader personality traits of Percy Mayfield we could’ve told you before hearing this record.

He was a handsome ladies man in real life who nevertheless was profoundly unfulfilled with romance… he was intelligent and worldly who recoiled at the injustices around him… he was overwhelmed by gloom yet still clung stubbornly to seeing the light.

These qualities made his songs far deeper, richer and more poignant than most rock songwriters, yet they also threatened to keep him confined to the margins once those viewpoints became widely expected out of him.

After all, people usually use music as a form of escapism from their own every day troubles and to have Mayfield remind them of the unfairness of life on both sides of each single coming out every three months might be a bit much.

But since this clearly wasn’t an artistic choice so much as it was a reflection of his own inner demons, there wasn’t much he could do about it. If he started trying to write light frothy love tunes, or even if he just created fictious characters and had them explore different aspects of human existance, those not quite as emotionally dire, that would rob him of his greatest gifts which was the way in which he expressed his own thoughts with such precision and how effectively his limited vocal abilities were able to convey them.

So on My Heart he attempts to explain himself… to give you the listener a firmer understanding of why he is the way he is. Yeah, it also allows him to wallow in his own misery again on record, which is what he does best, but in breaking down the particulars he earns the one thing that is so vital to forging a lasting connection.



Love That Can Never Be
We could probably have guessed many of the reasons that are given as to Percy Mayfield’s somewhat negative world view, while the ones that go unstated – such as systematic racism – are obvious enough even without being spoken aloud.

But as always with Mayfield it’s not the specific points themselves in his songs that are as vital to appreciating the work, as it is the way in which they’re explained. Mayfield’s ability to make the sentiments both relatable and poetic is what set him apart and considering this is such a personal song to him, you expect him to really bear his soul in the process.

As such it’s tempting to merely post the entire lyrics and let that suffice, for any artist who starts off a song by saying My Heart ”will make light of the sunshine” and follows it up by saying it “will frown when skies are blue” is mining the depths of depression that most want no first-hand association with.

Yet he does so in a way that pulls you in rather than turn you away. He’s taking ownership of his grief and not asking for sympathy, only understanding. As such it’s remarkably even-keeled for a premise dripping with sorrow.

Naturally his sadness centers around the loss of a girl, for while that may not always be the real reason behind all morose outlooks, it’s the ideal stand-in for a myriad of other more ambiguous reasons. Yet he doesn’t make it strictly about this girl, whose personality remains a mystery, but instead he centers it around the sense of loss itself and the void he has – and everyone else can surely relate to – when they feel they are missing out on something wonderful that could elevate their spirit.

With Maxwell Davis’s discreet arrangement buttressing those sentiments without lessening their impact in the process by being too heavy-handed, Mayfield’s weary voice takes center stage and all of his pain bubbles to the surface. In a way he’s crafting his singing to almost expressing the emptiness he’s left with, as if emptiness itself had a sound.

After the rather startling opening confession which set the scene, the rest of the lyrics are well chosen and creatively phrased, yet convey nothing more than that same basic concept. Therein lies the problem, not just with this song but much of Mayfield’s work the more we get into it… sadness is a feeling, one we all have experienced and thus can all relate to and identify with, even more or less explain what it feels like in broad terms.

But the details, the peculiar quirks which make up a great story, are numbed by that heavy heart. He’s so intent on relaying the overall gloom of his life that it overwhelms the very things that will make it come alive in our eyes.

It’s all still expertly crafted, well sung and nicely arranged, but he’s beginning to face diminishing returns on these performances, not because we don’t feel bad for him, but maybe because he’s given us no way to distance ourselves from the despair. By making it less about a fictious scenario that we can keep at arm’s length and view from the outside and be done with it, he’s made it about US and the realization begins to set in that sooner or later the darkness he sings of will envelop us all.


People I’m Not Lying
It’s rather unjust to penalize somebody for being so effective in laying out such a serious personal malady that we want to evade its message, but just as there’s little we can do as humans to avoid falling into melancholy traps from time to time, there’s not much we can say that will convince others that we’re always up for another tour of depression in a three minute song.

There’s still no flaws we can find to pick apart in Percy Mayfield’s abilities. He remains rock’s conscience in many ways.

But there are times when we don’t want to look in the mirror and admit our own weaknesses and be reminded of our own grief that we’ve done our best to put behind us.

My Heart forces us to do that in ways that may make every listener uncomfortable if it spurs them into recalling those sentiments from their own lives and once you’re sliding down that hill, unable to apply the brakes and reverse course, there’s not much chance you’ll want to thank Mayfield for giving you the shove that started you down in the first place.

But when you reach bottom, get back on your feet and begin climbing back out again, that’s when you’ll be more likely to admit that as painful as it was to relive these kind of moments in your mind as it played out, he’s only telling the truth about such matters and doing so in a way that reminds everybody that nobody is immune to misery and thus we’re all in this together… even if at times we’d rather not be reminded of it.


(Visit the Artist page of Percy Mayfield for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)