Written by Joshua Stryde, posted by blog admin
Jackson Howard’s Just for the Mystery is a worthwhile and fully developed follow up to the St. Louis native’s well received debut. There are thirteen tracks on this latest studio release and the vast majority is originals with music and lyrics alike composed by Howard. He’s recruited a first class cadre of collaborators who ably assist him in bringing these songs to life. There’s even a couple of guest star spots included that will, undoubtedly, draw more attention to Just for the Mystery and enhance its overall luster. Sophomore efforts are often precarious spots for young artists – can they build on the promise of their first release, will it be a carbon copy or, worst of all, will the wheels fall off entirely? The good news is Jackson Howard has built on the success of that first album with a second release that expands on his vision without ever compromising the guiding spirit that inspired him to aim his life in such a way.
The title song gets the album off to a rousing and hopeful start with its bright uplift and lightly synthesized guitar lines. The musical DNA of the track is, essentially, top shelf AOR rock with a blue-eyed soul sensitivity and a bit of poetic flash and Howard imbues it with a vocal that’s emotional in all the right ways without ever pushing into purple territory. “A Place in this World” is cut from the same AOR tradition and has a nice, relaxed saunter with tasteful keyboard touches and an engaging vocal melody. “Hideaway” is the first of the album’s two songs featuring guest stars and vocalist Mandy Cook contributes a lovely musical glow to this intimate acoustic track. It is a duet, but Howard’s voice dominates much of the lyric and the only time they bring their voices together comes with the song’s chorus and bridge.
One of the album’s most surprising moments comes with a countrified revision of Led Zeppelin’s classic Celtic neo-folk track “The Battle of Nevermore”. Howard belts out a real soulful blinder with his vocal and second vocalist Rachel Horter proves to be quite a dynamic foil for Howard’s emotive light baritone. “Driftwood” is another intimate piece largely controlled by sensitive guitar work, but the song works in brief passages joined by light percussion to mix things up. Howard’s delicate vocal for this track is quite unlike anything else we’ve heard from him so far on Just for the Mystery. It dovetails in with his other offerings on the album and it makes for one of the more enjoyable experiences this release has to offer. The album ends with a final cover song – a version of the popular early nineties hit “Unbelievable” from English alternative rock/dance band EMF. It’s about as unlikely of a cover as you’d expect, but Howard dispatches it without even a hint of self-consciousness and the most significant change made to the song is dispensing with keyboards entirely in favor of a guitar heavy arrangement. It ends the album in a satisfying way because it serves notice that, despite his immense talents, Howard isn’t averse to subverting listener’s expectations on Just for the Mystery. He’s happy to retain some mystery, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer that his star is steadily on the rise.