First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2008, Volume 15, #3
Written by John Metzger
Tue March 11, 2008, 07:30 AM CDT
Shawn Mullins has tried to do a lot of different things in a career that now spans nearly two decades. Although he has oscillated from folk to pop and from country to soul, however, he has never sounded completely comfortable as a songwriter and performer. It always seemed as if he was trying too hard to be something he wasn’t, and when he landed Lullaby in the Top 10 in 1998, it looked as if he had sealed his fate by locking himself into a market for which he wasn’t entirely suited. Mullins’ label dumped him after issuing only two albums. If there was a silver lining to the process, it came because he was forced to take stock of his life and finally find his voice.
After a six-year hiatus, Mullins emerged with 9th Ward Pickin’ Parlor. Although the same musical ideas as before continued to percolate through his work, there also was a sense that his creative thirst had returned, even if his confidence understandably had been shaken by his experience. His latest endeavor Honeydew builds significantly upon this framework, and without a doubt, it unfolds as effortlessly as anything he ever has done. This time, Mullins neither tries to be overly clever, nor attempts to force his music to head in a direction that it doesn’t want to go willingly. He simply allows his songs to evolve and grow on their own accord, and Honeydew is all the stronger for it.
Where the subtle eclecticism of 9th Ward Pickin’ Parlor didn’t always fit together neatly, Honeydew plays like a cohesive whole — so much so that Mullins actually succeeds in situating The Ballad of Kathryn Johnston’s southern rock-imbued, Neil Young-ian ominousness right next to the funky, Bill Withers-style soul of Homeless Joe. At times, he steps too closely to his heroes’ legacies — emulating Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan on See that Train and For America, respectively. Rather than exuding an air of cheap mimicry, however, the tunes find their own grooves, thanks to Mullins’ enthusiastically impassioned delivery.
It helps considerably, of course, that throughout Honeydew, Mullins’ melodies are sharper and more engaging than those on 9th Ward Pickin’ Parlor were. Likewise, his material is more finely honed than it typically has been in the past. At the same time, his approach is more forceful and aggressive, and he wisely resisted the urge to polish and re-polish his songs until their rougher edges were worn away. Although Honeydew doesn’t necessarily break new ground — to be fair, few things do, these days — it is a populist-minded set that deserves to find an audience. After everything he has been through, Shawn Mullins, at long last, sounds as if he has found a home. ˝
Honeydew is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box