The eclectic Vanguard Records label is a good home for an artist who himself is unsure how to adequately describe the music he creates; a rustic blend of folk, country and rock, but with notable pop sensibilities.
That's why Atlanta-based Shawn Mullins feels Vanguard is a much more comfortable fit than his previous label, Columbia Records, for which he charted the 1988 #1 Adult Top 40 hit, “Lullaby.” Other Mullins hits for Columbia were "Shimmer" (featured in the TV teen drama, "Dawson's Creek") and "All In My Head" (featured in the TV sitcom, "Scrubs").
“There is less pressure and there’s much more artistic freedom at Vanguard, which is always a good thing when it comes to songwriting,” reflected Mullins, who is not a fan of the kind of heavily produced music popular today. “When there is too much production, the song tends to get lost and in music, it should always be about the song!”
Though certainly not averse to having a hit song the charts -- he put "Beautiful Wreck” at #1 on the AAA charts for Vanguard in 2006 -- Mullins has never actively sought to be a hit-maker.
“At first Columbia was a good place to be,” he said. “But after a while, the label and I got tired of each other. They were hit-driven, which I can understand from a business point of view, because they want to sell records. But I’m not a guy who sits down to write a hit song. I’m a guy who sits down and lets the song write itself.”
His penchant for letting songs write themselves was evident on his 2008 album, “Honeydew,” a much darker collection of songs than Mullins’ previous releases. They were written following the death of his mother and of his beloved dog, Roadie, who had been the artist’s constant sidekick and travel companion for many years. “I went through a pretty dark and rough period and those songs were part of the process of getting me to the other side of that,” he said.
The same is true of his follow-up album, the newly released “Light You Up,” which in many ways marks a renewed and uplifted spirit for Mullins following his ascent to the top of the national Country Music charts in 2009 via his co-writing contribution to the #1 Zack Brown Band single, “Toes.” That success coupled with he and wife Kelley celebrating the birth of their first child, Murphy, has uncorked a well-spring of creativity for Mullins.
“The best part of being a father is that it’s made me change priorities and look at life differently,” said Mullins. “I’m in a pretty good place right now.” His current exuberance and happiness in life is clearly heard on “Light You Up,” as much as his melancholy mood dominated the songs on “Honeydew.”
The new album finds usual lone wolf Mullins readily embracing a new penchant for partnering up. “Co-writing has become a sort of community for me,” he said. Nashville pro Chuck Cannon is a frequent go-to guy for Mullins and together they composed “Light You Up” and “California,” two of the strongest cuts on the 11-song release.
“It’s one of those songs that just get stuck in your head,” said Mullins of the album’s title track, “Light You Up,” the first single from the new CD and quite possibly his long-overdue third major radio hit, thanks in part to an infectious chorus -- “I just want to light you up/Light you up like a fire/I just want to turn you on/Turn you on and take you higher” – that keeps echoing in your brain long after the song ends.
Other collaborators who wrote with Mullins for the new album are Toad The Wet Sprocket’s Glen Phillips, Pete Droge, Max Gomez, and Mullins’ longtime drummer and co-producer Gerry Hansen.
As an album, “Light You Up,” is overflowing with colorful characters whose stories are told with the help of catchy melodies, stellar instrumental performances and brought home magnificently by Mullins’ warm, familiar baritone.
Plenty of tunes from “Light You Up” will be featured in Mullins live set this weekend when he returns to Valparaiso’s Memorial Opera House by popular demand, along with fan favorites from the artist’s extensive back catalog.