By: Bill Clifford
There's a deep sense of character in the songs of modern day troubadour Shawn Mullins . When his music finally and deservingly reached a mainstream audience with the breakthrough candid storyteller ruminations of 1988's Soul's Core, but 2000's follow-up, Beneath The Velvet Sun, was marred by far to many loops, samples and other effects laden production gimmicks that hid his vocals and lyrics. He teamed with like-minded songwriters Matthew Sweet and Pete Droge for the 2003 spin-off group The Thorns , and then returned to solo work with the critically acclaimed 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor in 2006. It seems that Mullins found a home on the Vanguard imprint, which has released Honeydew, his most cohesive collection of modern folk rock yet.
The common thread running though most of Honeydew is home in the southland, the title a reference to a breakfast delicacy in the Mullins home. A Georgia native, Mullins recorded the album in rural Georgia at the home studio of longtime drummer Gerry Hansen. Atlanta based guitarist Peter Stroud (Sheryl Crow) joins Mullins on the scorching rocker "The Ballad Of Kathryn Johnston," the story of an aged woman living in a crime ridden neighborhood in Atlanta who was shot and killed by police who wrongly targeted her house for a drug dealer's hideaway. Also joining Mullins is renowned Atlanta blues singer Francine Reed, who adds vocals to a less polished version of "All In My Head," which was originally released on the soundtrack to the television comedy Scrubs. Reed further makes her presence felt on the acoustic rocker "Homeless Joe," written about a well-known, homeless guitar slingin' Atlanta street musician.
"See That Train" is a fun, bluesy rail dirge featuring howling slide guitar and written from the perspective of a hobo whose gal has left him penniless and taken the train all the way to Birmingham. A graduate of North Georgia College (a military school) and a former Airborne Ranger, Mullins channels his inner Woody Guthrie, rife with acoustic guitar and somber harmonica on "For America," a rally cry that begs the question, "What's going on?" "Cabbagetown" and "Nameless Faces" are driving rock songs. The first discusses an actual Atlanta suburb, set in the '80s when the neighborhood wasn't the gentrified region it is today, the song's narrator unhappy in his surroundings and wishing to get back to the mountains of his ancestors. The song's bluesy, soulful tone and searing guitar further relay his anger at seeing what the town has become. Mullins' mom passed away while recording Honeydew and "Nameless Faces" is written from the perspective of family members waiting for a wandering soul to return home, and closer "Rewind The Years" is his mournful yet lovely elegy.
Mullins' colorful character sketches stem from his personal experiences and travels. 9th Ward, recorded in New Orleans, had a bit of a bayou theme running through it. With Honeydew, Mullins returns to his Georgia roots, vividly detailing the stories of the people and places of the South that have had an influence on his life. It's been a decade since the runaway hit "Lullaby" brought his music to the mainstream. While this album may not reach the masses the way Soul's Core did, it should none the less, turn him on to a younger generation of music fans.
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