Artist: Mystery Loves Company
Review by Jessi Roti – @JessiTaylorRO
Album: Rock Symphony Billion
Houston-based Mystery Loves Company describes its second studio album as “a chamber rock album in four movements.” Rock Symphony Billion finds itself somewhere between a concept album and an off-Broadway musical, thematic but maybe not as theatrical or over-the-top. However, it does bring the narrative drama needed for the stories to unfold on stage, whether that stage is in an amphitheater or otherwise.
The first movement includes the tracks “Rambunctious Cowboy,” “Fly,” and “Slow.” Each track plays with the concept of aging and where one should be mentally or stably when they’re young versus when they’re old. It’s abstract, but not necessarily difficult to follow. There are no rules, but rather societal norms and expectations people are expected to fill. Mystery Loves Company doesn’t feel like filling any norms of what’s expected of them.
“Graven,” “Sister When,” and “From the Stars” follow the same southern-tinged, swamp-folk Mystery Loves Company stomped into preceding tracks. Vocalist/cellist Madeline Herdeman sounds almost possessed on “Graven,” like she’s singing as she’s being dragged down to the bayou for an unwarranted baptism. Third movement tracks, “The Island,” “Day by Day,” and “Across the Emptiness” are helmed by a jazz-clarinet and a rushing acoustic rhythm that’s almost samba-like. Maybe the “unwarranted baptism” was a necessary evil/good?
“Fireworks” marks the album’s (and journey’s) end, though it’s unclear if it’s truly a happy ending. If not happy, definitely hopeful. The vocalists build a round into a flood of electric guitar and trumpet akin to the infectious jubilee of the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love.” It’s a grand finale, a celebration that’s worthy of taking a bow.
Storytellers, artists like Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, and Loretta Lynn, create the scene and the space for their tales to come to life, much like Mystery Loves Company has the skill to do. But unlike Nelson, Dylan, and Lynn – whose songs could stand alone as popular singles or become anthems for a generation or specific genre – Mystery Loves Company’s songs more strongly parallel showtunes. The story, the scene that they’ve set is too big for popular music or even indie. Turn Rock Symphony Billion into a stage play, and you’ve got a hit.