Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin
Jackson Howard’s upward trajectory towards mainstream stardom gets a little clearer with his sophomore album Just for the Mystery. It is a thirteen track outing devoted primarily to Howard’s original compositions while showing he isn’t averse to throwing in a cover on his albums. He also has no clear opposition to sharing the spotlight with other talented musicians and performers; their combined talents invariably elevate already fine material to an entirely new level. Like any great musician and live performer, Howard is wise to gather a talented crew of band mates and production staff to help realize the creative vision behind Just for the Mystery. His songwriting is the thing that sells this collection and the St. Louis based writer combines his genuine poetic/literary skills with a stylish presentation accentuating all the best qualities about his work. There are good reasons why Howard has proven so popular as a live act and Just for the Mystery provides listeners with thirteen of them.
The title song “Just for the Mystery” begins the release on a memorable note. The first performance presents listeners with a long check list of things Howard does exceptionally well as both a performer and writer, but also as the guiding artistic conscience behind the release. He’s obviously chosen well when it comes to collaborators as the drumming and other players complement his voice and lyrics extraordinarily well. He marries direct writing with memorable poetic flourishes, but there’s never any sense he’s straining for effect. It all comes out quite naturally. The affecting “A Place in this World” continues that trend with another evocative mix of great lyrics, artful turns on guitar, and drumming that plays to the song rather than attempting to dominate it in some ham fisted fashion. “The Battle of Evermore” is one of the album’s most unexpected moments. Howard bravely attempts covering this relatively obscure Led Zeppelin song from the iconic band’s fourth studio album and recruits vocalist Rachel Horter for the female part in the song. Howard dispenses with the folk music trappings, retains the fantasy lyrics, and throws some gritty bluesy influences over this track, forever transforming it.
The track “Surround You” undergoes a steady transformation from its opening onward, but Howard shows tremendous patience developing the tune. It begins life as another acoustic slanted tune cut from the same cloth as many of the other songs, but electric guitar work makes its presence known relatively quickly and, in the second half, percussion enters and the tempo picks up some before the song concludes on a higher note than it began. One of his most convincing vocals comes with the song “Dizzy”. The template still holds here – Howard opens the track in a nearly hushed acoustic mode, but he picks up the rousing qualities of the song earlier and brings a fuller band arrangement to bear than what we’ve heard on earlier songs. The album’s finale is its second cover track. Howard casts his eyes and ears back to the early 1990’s for a version of EMF’s “Unbelievable” that dispenses with any hints of electronica in favor of a stricter rock presentation. Jackson Howard serves up a variety of musical poses on Just For the Mystery and they all ring with a genuine musicality that never sounds like someone straining for effect.