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It might not rank up there with a five star restaurant suddenly serving chili dogs and draft beer to patrons decked out in tuxedos and satin gowns, or Stephen King ditching horror stories to write poetry, but hearing Percy Mayfield slowly start shedding his dire pessimistic worldview in favor of seeking love in his songs is a little disconcerting.

Of course an artist should switch things up over the course of their career in some form or fashion and since Mayfield’s singing voice is hardly suited for dance cuts he’s got to look elsewhere to keep things fresh. Because he’s such a great songwriter that naturally means the shift will probably come via the themes he chooses to tackle so maybe we can’t claim to be altogether shocked at the change in topics.

But somehow even acknowledging that fact going into this doesn’t quite prepare you for encountering the usually deadly serious craftsman pitching woo to a sweetheart.


A Man Needs A Woman
Before the auto accident that permanently disfigured him, Percy Mayfield was considered quite the matinee idol. His thin angular features and smoldering look in photographs makes him sort of the Robert Mitchum of rock ‘n’ roll.

Because of this it’s hard to envision Mayfield having much trouble getting girls… though of course looks don’t always translate to inner confidence which is often the deciding factor when it comes to eliciting strong attraction in the opposite sex.

Since Mayfield’s general persona on record was that of the idealistic dreamer who was constantly let down by the injustices he saw around him and haunted by them to the point of despair, it’s no wonder that he didn’t project a cocksure attitude around the ladies. As a result when he finally gets it in his mind to find a mate it means he’s left trying to do so not via the most reliable methods such as stirring someone’s emotions via primal attraction, but rather he’s setting out to convince the girl using logic and reason by telling her Two Hearts Are Greater Than One.

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, Percy, but it won’t work. No matter how sincere you are in your attempts, that’s just not how girls fall for guys.

But in a way that’s actually what makes the song all the more intriguing, because Mayfield’s intelligence is well-established, hearing him intentionally take on a character who is going about something in a way that he, as the writer, knows is not going to succeed is bound to be fascinating.

It may become even more interesting if you’re viewing this as a companion piece to the top side, Louisiana, another atypical song for him which finds Mayfield headed back to his home state to find a wife, thereby taking this song as his game plan playing itself out when he gets there.

We shouldn’t be surprised he took this route, after all a wordsmith like Mayfield is going to fall back on his language skills to try and get what he’s after in life, but when it comes to girls sometimes the less said the better your chances.


I Know I Might Sound Crazy
When this starts you recognize the characteristic traits of Percy Mayfield the singer right away.

The dour tone, the slow revelatory pace as he pulls out each line from the depths of his soul, the moody backing with gently throbbing horns and an understated rhythm are all components he’s made his name on and apparently he sees no reason to radically alter that approach now… even if he DOES want to get laid for a change.

But the differences are there all the same when you start listening closely to what he’s saying, because while Mayfield wasn’t immune from expressing a sort of broad hope in some of his songs he never let that hope overwhelm his natural pessimism as he does on Two Hearts Are Greater Than One.

We know he’s not going to be like so many rock singers who fall for a girl and shamefully hit on her via the lyrics – or in Wynonie Harris’s case, crudely proposition her before the first chorus – but Mayfield still needs to get the same essential point across and after establishing the basic premise of the need for companionship among humans, he makes his position clear by saying how much he wants this one specifically.

But he’s starting from a position of servitude, admitting he’s begging her and will keep doing so, thereby ensuring that this woman never views him as an equal. As a result his tactics are sure to fail, or if he does manage to convince her to accept him the relationship will always be devoid of true love on her part. That somebody so smart can fail to realize this is what makes the power of love so frustrating for so many.

Yet within the context of the song we’re not nearly as concerned with his outcome as we are with his methods of delivery and so when he suddenly raises his voice and energy to express his desire we’re caught completely off guard. He tempers his excitement quick enough, but even that momentary loss of restraint perfectly captures how desperate he’s become, allowing his emotions to get the best of him and then reeling them back in because he’s Percy Mayfield and Percy Mayfield can never allow himself to get out of control.

Never Quite At Home
Of course as much as we enjoy seeing a different side of him, and as well as he carries off this from a psychological point of view, that doesn’t mean it’s exactly on par with his best work. For one thing the main takeaway here – his torment over wanting someone badly without possessing the internal means with which to get her – is usually one that is better expressed in music with more of a visceral punch.

The music on Two Hearts Are Greater Than One however is subdued, not at all reflecting his inner conflict but rather serving to disguise it and almost project the cool detached image that his words belie from start to finish. With contemplative piano and light drumming it’s all too neat and classy for someone who claims this situation is “about to drive me mad”.

Maybe he should’ve let himself go mad and see what THAT sounded like, for while we can definitely sympathize with his plight, we still have to be honest enough to say that he brought it on himself by not learning early on how to treat love as an instinctual dance between people rather than an intellectual exercise best left to ponder alone.


Keep Him In The Light
Any time a really good artist takes a chance to step slightly outside their comfort zone the results are always going to at least be worth hearting, but here Percy Mayfield doesn’t quite go far enough to change things up stylistically and make that different perspective truly pay off.

As such this more or less fits into his overall artistic image rather than providing a new wrinkle to that image. Just think instead of what it’d be like hearing the normally downcast low-key Mayfield we get on most records turn out to be a suave ladies man, or even a laid-back cocky pimp of a character.

But we are what we are in life I guess and Mayfield is the guy who is always more comfortable when he contemplates life’s problems, including his own, and less so when he’s forced to act on them.

In that regard Two Hearts Are Greater Than One is about what we’d expect coming from him if he’s forced to reveal his own inner desires… a little thoughtful, a little unsure of himself while expressing his emotions with the chance of rejection and consequently making it a little uncomfortable looking in on him as he does so.

Though the subject and goals of the song are new, the mindset remains familiar enough… and good enough to appreciate… but not quite inventive enough to stand out beyond that in his catalog.


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