Guitar-pickin’ Mullins

Alex Brown

Alex Brown

Eight years removed from his smash hit “Lullaby,” Grammy nominee Shawn Mullins’ is back with an album that will satisfy a broad range of interests. The 38-year-old Mullins’ eighth CD, “9th Ward Pickin’ Parlor,” is filled with as much emotion and soul as the building it is named after. Only a block away from the Industrial Canal in New Orleans, roughly half the album was cut before Hurricane Katrina destroyed the 100-year-old building that housed the studio.

Despite the setback, Mullins finished the CD and released a record filled with a wide variety of musical styles, including country, rock and blues. Delivered in an almost entirely acoustic style, Mullins adds his gravelly tenor vocals to the often emotional tracks. In an age of digital recording, pre-recorded instruments, manipulation of the artist’s voice and constant recording, “Pickin’ Parlor” features a refreshing change from the technical era. The ‘old school’ feeling and live instruments help the listener really connect to the music. Simple plucking of a banjo, guitar and mandolin are combined with basic drums and percussion to give the entire album that brings back memories from a simpler time.

Mullins’ latest creation is filled with fantastic story telling, from self-destructive love songs, to murder ballads, an anti-war piece, and even the remake of a classic thrown into the mix. The first single off the new CD is “Beautiful Wreck,” a song that could describe relationships many can relate to. Johnny Cash would be proud of the work Mullins’ did with “Cold Black Heart,” a song about love, loss, murder and life on the run. The remake of “House of the Rising Sun” has a few minor lyrical changes. While somewhat strange, the vocal performance is still moving. The call for peace and an end to war in “Lay Down Your Swords, Boys” hearkens back to the anti-war songs of the Vietnam Era. Carrying on this sentiment, Mullins helped campaign for Senator John Kerry’s presidential bid in 2004.

For many, the most surprising and interesting fact about Mullins is the military background that is a part of his life. His brother, father, grandfather and step-grandfather all were in various branches of the armed services. Mullins was no different. Attending an Army ROTC program in college, Shawn was a part of an airborne infantry. Afterwards, he hit the road to pursue a music career. He currently plays more than 200 performances a year across the country. Four out of five stars.