Swinging For FencesSOURCE Daily University of Washington
At one point or another, everyone has been guilty of judging a book by its cover. I became the culprit. Mansfield, covered in tattoos and looking nervous, started his set off a bit shakily.
What was all the fuss over this local guy’s project titled Fences?
“Sorry, I’m scared s***less for some reason,” Mansfield admitted to the growing audience.
Well, no matter my initial thoughts, you couldn’t take your eyes off the guy. He sang with no flair in his voice or his presentation, but it was easy to believe every word coming out of his mouth. Whatever backing band was behind him really didn’t matter; Fences’ mostly acoustic and folky sound was and is all Mansfield.
He eventually found his footing that day, when soaring melodies on sentimental songs like “The Same Tattoos” and “Sadie” spoke for themselves.
Just what was this guy’s story?
On Fences’ self-titled debut, it’s apparent that even though Mansfield’s live show might not pack much of a punch at first, his songs most certainly do. They’re about the guy’s personal trials and tribulations — he’s moved all around the country, studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and didn’t help himself in Seattle with a self-confessed drinking problem. (He went to rehab in Kirkland thanks to MusiCares, which helps artists out with health care costs.)
Fences is “where I take out the trash,” Mansfield told The Stranger last November. “I want to keep a clean house and be a happy guy in my house, and the garbage, the bad feelings, is the music. That’s where I put it.”
To prove his point, just take a listen to the gloomy and terrific “Girls with Accents.” Mansfield writes of botched opportunities, with the payoff being the brooding reflection of “I’m f**king up, I’m f**king up, I’m f–king up everything.” Simple? Sure. Effective? Definitely.
They may be bad feelings, as Mansfield put it, but he also knows those feelings make fantastic tunes. And it doesn’t hurt that he has Sara Quin (of Tegan and Sara) producing the 10-song effort. Being a debutant means there’s plenty of room to grow, yet the flashes of brilliance are undeniable.
In a song like “My Girl the Horse,” above an acoustic guitar and an alluring keyboard arrangement is a plea that sucks you in. It’s the realization that “neither one of us will make it down this hill alive” that goes straight for the soul.
Meanwhile, “From Roses” shows some strength (“I’ll never leave you again”) — a slow burner that would be hard to forget if it weren’t followed by the aforementioned “Sadie.” It’s one of the few times where Mansfield really lets loose, his voice no longer hushed on the song’s chorus.
Those flashes of brilliance are sprinkled throughout the album. So when Mansfield claims he has “probably 50 to 100 songs that no one’s heard yet” in that same Stranger interview, one has to wonder if the best is yet to come.
With a debut like this, that’s an exciting thought.