Since we last heard from Shawn Mullins on 2008’s honeydew, the Atlanta-based singer/songwriter and bandleader has undergone a series of transformative experiences, leading to a second coming for the veteran artist. Evidence of Mullins’ newfound level of musical and lyrical ambition courses comes through with Light You Up (Vanguard Records, October 12). This captivating new song cycle will likely be viewed as a flat-out revelation even by Mullins’ most fervent fans.
His experiences included an indoctrination into the collaborative creative process by numerous bouts of intensive co-writing, in one instance putting him atop of the country charts via a key contribution to the Zac Brown Band’s “Toes,” marking his third #1 single, following 1999’s “Lullaby” and the 2006 Triple A/Americana chart-topper “Beautiful Wreck.” Further co-writing yielded nine of the 11 songs on the new album, which Mullins believes represents the strongest, most expressive writing of his distinguished career. All of this creative activity was topped off by the birth of Shawn’s first child, Murphy, in August of 2009.
“Even in the hospital with our new son, something changed for me,” Mullins recalls. “It was almost like nothing else mattered. It feels that different now. And at the same time, co-writing has become a sort of community for me.”
These two crucial realizations are at the center of Light You Up. The new album reaches out, boldly and magnanimously, into present-day existence—and at times like these, like-minded individuals can find strength in numbers. In this sense, the process that brought the new album to life parallels its underlying theme of banding together. Light You Up is an ensemble album through and through, the result of creative interaction from the writing through the recording. Tracking began with two weeks of playing and recording live at Mullins’ rustic Georgia cabin with his core musicians—drummer Gerry Hansen, bassist Patrick Blanchard and guitarist Davis Causey . The project continued with the addition of Hammond B3 organ and other keyboards from Marty Kearns, pedal steel from Dan Dugmore and Clay Cook, saxes from Tom Ryan, a string quartet and additional percussion.
The album opens with the devastating one-two punch of the cinematic “California”—which instantly takes its place alongside such latter-day Cali classics as Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” David & David’s “Welcome to the Boomtown,” Beck’s “Earthquake Weather” and Mullins’ own chart-topper “Lullaby”—and the smoldering, zeitgeist-capturing title track. In terms of their dramatic payloads, these two songs are of a piece, delving into the tattered yet resilient heart of the American Dream. The California setting, to which Mullins returns on “Tinseltown,” functions as a microcosm of our collective journey from wide-eyed innocence through bitter experience to the possibility of personal and collective renewal.
Shawn’s friend and collaborator, Nashville pro Chuck Cannon (whose songs have been cut by the likes of Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson), co-wrote “California” and “Light You Up” (the first single). “Chuck’s one of the world’s best songwriters and very old-school in his … Read More