Monday, August 14, 2017

Jackson Howard - Just for the Mystery (2017)

Written by Jay Snyder, posted by blog admin

Soul rocker Jackson Howard and his band are in excellent shape on their second long-player Just for the Mystery.  Combing touches of folk, blues and soul in flurries of electric guitar mysticism, acoustic sweep, river deep rhythms, mountain high vocals and piano/key sprinkles, Howard’s in command of his song craft all throughout. 

The title track is the opening number and it couples a buoyant rhythmic groove with Andre DiMuzio’s infectious piano melodies and electric guitarist Jonathan Crone’s dashes of electric guitar spice.  Howard’s blend of vibrato rich lead vocals, falsetto bits and great melodic singing elevates the material even further.  The rural folk of “A Place in this World” remind one of the catchy Eagle Eye Cherry cut “Save Tonight,” as the vocal melody is familiar but the song structure is built more firmly on the guitars.  Subtle, soft and sweet, “Run with me” is a plucky, twangy gravel road folk/country ballad that opens up into wide, expansive orchestral textures later on thanks to Jared Kneale’s rolling, propulsive fills turning the volume up twice as loud to match Howard’s soaring high notes. 

Similar themes are explored on “Hideaway,” another wayward acoustic guitar jam that features a charming vocal duet with Mandy Cook.  Fans of Allison Krauss and Union Station’s work should find something to enjoy in this pleasant, breezy piece.  A surprisingly effective cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore” has more Dixieland swagger than the original with Rachel Horter playing the Sandy Denny to Jackson’s Plant.  The quiet pairing of “Surround You” and “Driftwood” bring the mood down to an ambient, folky flicker before “This Town” swirls with some electric flourishes, rumbly vocals and a straightforward, 1-2 blues beat.  “Dizzy” could easily be a favorite at a jazz club and the piano/vocal magic of “If I Fall” really provide a showcase for Howard’s passionate vocals.  Dueling acoustic ditties “You are more” and “Tribute” keep the soul influences before a stomping, rock guitar gussied cover of EMF’s “Unbelievable” ends things with a thundercrack. 

Just for the Mystery traverses a lot of different emotional valleys and remains quality listening throughout.  With the ability to put an excellent spin on classic covers and deliver top quality originals, Jackson Howard has put out a worthwhile sophomore record.  No slump here, only solid material that reveals more intricacies with each passing listen.  Fans of soul, folk and soothing tunes in general would do well to check this out. 

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