Written by Pamela Bellmore, posted by blog admin
A solid collection of songs is present on Jackson Howard’s sophomore record, Just for the Mystery, and the tunes represented weave together a number of classic styles with a mainstream touch. The end result is a wealth of material well-suited to radio and songs that will appeal to music fans who like the real thing without an overabundance of studio trickery and digital manipulation. Howard can sing, play and write, so he wisely chose to let the music do the talking with the production only reinforcing the above facts.
The one-two punch of the title track and “A Place in this World” illustrates his strengths as well as his band’s attributes; the former a busy, high-octane rock jam with rumbling drums, fluid bass plucking, fiery electric/acoustic guitar mash-ups and powerhouse vocals while the latter combines acoustic balladry with a radio friendly rock chorus ala James Blunt or even Ryan Adams. “Run with Me” starts to open things up into more arid textures where laidback rhythms compliment gentle acoustic meditations and vocals that go from a whisper to a skyward croon in seconds. Rocked-out rhythms in the second half provide a nice boost to the preceding atmospherics which transition uniquely into “Hideaway’s” male/female vocal combo (more than ample support given by the soulful Mandy Cook) and downhome, country guitar cookin’.
The Led Zeppelin masterpiece “The Battle for Evermore (from the classic 4 album)” goes for the throat with a trotting, galloping gritty blues guitar presence and steadfast rhythmic interplay. Here, Howard can be found matching vocal wits with Rachel Hortner in a display of growly blues that are truly an excellent hat tip to Zep’s mighty original.
“Surround You” and “Driftwood” are folky, acoustic jams that are on the melodic downtempo; eschewing rock n’ roll for true singer/songwriter flair that are ably handled by Jackson’s smooth vocal timbres. “This Town” retains a hazy blues crunch that follows-up the Led Zeppelin cover well and “Dizzy” returns to the rock n’ roll nerve that punctuated the opening track. A triple threat of ballads including the sugar sweet piano/vocal showcase “If I Fall” and country/folk-dipped dreamers “You Are More” and “Tribute” bring the album back to its core thematic, as a redux of EMF’s “Unbelievable” crosses the finish in a buzzing, electric guitar salvo.
A few of the acoustic numbers sound similar, even if each is pretty and pulsing in their own respective rights, and more songwriting variety could make for an even stronger third record. The fact remains though that Jackson Howard has the soul, smarts and songwriting to turn a lot of heads. Just for the Mystery is a well-done effort that is worth the time it takes to absorb its 13 tracks.