Light You Up
Shawn Mullins tackles a perplexing variety of styles on this, his eleventh studio album. While he makes a pretty decent job of whatever he tries his hand at, it does make him quite difficult to get a handle on.
Probably the best two songs on the album are “The Ghost of Johnny Cash” and “Can’t Remember Summer”. The first of these finds Mullins almost speaking the lyrics over an eerie backing, eloquently explaining how it’s easier to take guidance from someone who’s lived through their own fair share of problems, using Johnny Cash as an example: Some sinners need their saints to be survivors of the fall, ‘Cos when you’re down here on your knees most angels look too tall.
“Can’t Remember Summer” is equally good, starting out by describing the effects of the recession on smalltown America, with graffiti, broken windows, factories standing empty, and kids coming back from college only to find themselves working in the shopping mall. Mullins very cleverly links this general picture of the community as a whole into the personal experiences of one individual, whose wife has left him and who’s not sure he’s going to make it through.
But he also has a penchant for blue-eyed soul, which is displayed on the title track, as well as “No Blue Sky”, and “You Make It Better” which with its driving beat and swirling Hammond organ finds Mullins sounding much like Robert Palmer.
The least interesting of the songs are where he strays into AOR territory. These include “Tinsel Town” and “Love Will Find A Way”. “California”, although musically similar, does at least offer more lyrically, being a modern-day take on “California Dreamin’”, complete with house in Topanga Canyon, snorting cocaine backstage at the Hollywood Bowl and partying in the Viper Room.
“I Knew A Girl” is a simple acoustic ballad embellished with cello and strings, while “Murphy’s Song” is one of the few to feature pedal steel. “Catoosa County” is a decent Civil War ballad. If it seems like there’s something here to please every new listener, that’s probably the case. The danger is whether, with his ever-shifting stylistic changes, Mullins will hold on to them all.