Jared Bill – ‘Mystery Man’

Mystery Man is the sophomore album from Jared Bill, continuing the gripping narratives and rock/country intertwining of his debut. Spanning from vulnerable look-backs to childhood (“Thompson Speedway”) to the perils of over-consumption (“The Man With No Name”), Mystery Man is a riveting listening experience.

“Although exaggerated and fictitious, the tales are based on real events and experiences from my life,” Jared Bill explains. “The inspiration for this album derives from my desire to draw listeners into the stories, which are very much an interconnected labyrinth all existing in the same universe.”

Album opener “Jared Bill, Pt. 2” is a follow-up to a track on the artist’s debut album. The on-the-run story continues, set against a debonair assortment of guitars and piano amidst a country-jail setting. “The sheriff’s got an axe to grind,” the vocals let out, furthering a cinematic narrative into suave guitar work with shades of Dire Straits. Jared Bill’s quest to pay off his debts, while on the run, makes for a compelling narrative to kick off this engaging album from the artist.

The subsequent, humorous “Turkey Baby” plays like an origin story, chronicling how baby Jared Bill would smell like a turkey — due to his proximity to the kitchen’s oven. “Turkey baby, just three days old, smiling in his little onesie,” the vocals exude, explaining further: “His mother went to kiss his cheek, when she got closer she got a whiff of rotisserie.” Despite his turkey-friendly odor, the baby was very much loved and cherished, and between the baby laughter sampling and dinner-ready chiming makes for an endearing folk stirrer.

“The Corduroy Showdown” traverses back into a grittier, outlaw-friendly country-rock composure. The quick-drawing showdown — best believe “it wasn’t a hoedown,” — captivates in illustrating the tumult and foreboding looking-over-the-shoulder anxiety the character of Jared Bill encounters, both in the heat of battle and whilst on the run. “Vindaloo” infuses a more exotic mystique, with the sitar-y additions complementing muses on whether the traditional Indian dish is a bit too much for our protagonist.

The album compels in building a sympathetic background for Jared Bill and its present challenges. “The Man With No Name” is an acoustic-driven success, emphasizing how he “always lent a helping hand,” and was thus “known throughout the land.” The tragedy of Jared Bill hitting a man on the train tracks, accidentally though as a result of over-drinking, is explored as well — as glistening harp effects join beautifully into twangy guitars. Jared Bill certainly is portrayed with artful precision as a complex, tragic hero.

A grungy rock and country intertwining enthrall on “Corgi on the 2nd Floor,” with a suave guitar solo immersing at the mid-point; the guitar work is a standout component throughout the album, here and especially on “The Girl in the Dakine Sweatshirt,” infusing some of that Mark Knopfler energy.

A mid-point guitar emphasis also stirs on “Tabs and Slots,” whose reflections on risk/rewards and the draw of slot machines prove poignant, particularly in the context of a debt-ridden character. It’s apt that the album closes with “Thompson Speedway,” exuding a retrospective flashback to simpler times and childhood; it’s an emotional, twangy reprieve for the adult protagonist, battling debt and enemies whilst on the run. Mystery Man is a standout album from Jared Bill.

Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

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