When I first met Matthew Mayfield he was in a place of deep frustration and disappointment. The Birmingham, Alabama musician had just seen his life’s work, a debut album with his rock outfit Moses Mayfield, get dumped down the pan by Columbia’s new co-head Rick Rubin in the first weeks after release. It was on the bottom side of that Rollercoaster ride that I spent some time with Matthew, becoming aware quickly of a young man with a natural artistic muse and great talent; if struggling to get over an enormous commercial knock. I remember the first time I heard his voice at Dan McGuinness’s bar in Nashville, in the round with Iain Archer and Griffin House. The power of the gravel throated weariness took me by sweet surprise. In Birmingham just a few months later Matthew was kind enough to give me a CD of stuff he was working on and I have to say I actually loved it even more than the Moses Mayfield record.
Since that time Matthew has released a series of independent EPs that reveal the talent that Rubin missed. Rubin may have given us the Beatsie Boys, launched the historically significant Def Jam Records and later reinvented Johnny Cash but he somehow missed the spiritual power in Matthew Mayfield. Indeed it is ironic that some of the work on Matthew’s EPs are Rubin like stripped back. It also comes through on the EPs that Mayfield is a rocker and a rare kind of rocker at that but one with a lyric flourishes and depth of content. He has signalled a return to the full band blast on his web page by posting -
I love being a singer/songwriter with an acoustic guitar. I’ve embraced it. But for May’s EP, I’ve decided it’s time to make a rock record. There’s an entire 50 percent of my being that lives for gritty, electric rock ‘n roll music. We’re called The Blue Cut Robbery and we will make a record full of nasty riffs that move you.
I look forward to it but the song I want to throw into my Songs For A Healthy Soul stash is the lead off track from the Five Chances Remain Hers EP. The Open Road video is available on U-Tube and the song is one of struggle and disappointment that might just be a response to the period when I met Matthew at the end of 2007. The chorus is a wonderful piece of prayer poetry that shows a spiritual wisdom way beyond his years: -
“I'm screaming to God
‘would you come and save
what you've either forgot
or you're strengthening
I've finally paid the toll
and it's all open road
just trying to find a home
take me home”
“What you’ve either forgot or you’re strengthening” is so brilliant that I have tucked into the top pocket of my pastoral coat. How well does it describe the mystery of prayer and the mature awareness that God’s seeming silence might be for our own good. In Open Road Mayfield has written a big Psalm ballad of rock grit and holy beauty.