AOM Logo February 2001

Shawn Mullins: Beneath the Velvet Sun

Columbia Records

Playing Time: 48:11

D. Malcolm Fairbrother

Cover Image

There are those who believe that Shawn Mullins is nothing more than a one-hit wonder, a lucky stiff who was in the right place at the right time as his mega-hit single Lullaby swept him to the top of the pop music charts in 1998, rewarded him with a glimpse of the glitter and the gold, then sent him packing off into a long, slow slide into the "whatever-happened-to" footnotes of obscure music journals. There are also those who believe that Shawn Mullins is nothing more than an overnight sensation who miraculously appeared on the pop music horizon out of the proverbial blue with the aforementioned tuneful triumph, augmented his position with a second hit, the stunning Shimmer, a jackpot winner in the pop music sweepstakes by virtue of its inclusion on the highly successful Songs From Dawson's Creek soundtrack. Yet, with the release of Beneath The Velvet Sun, Shawn Mullins clearly defies any attempt to pin him down with any label as simplistic as "one hit wonder" or as desultory as "overnight sensation".

Georgia native Mullins has been scuffing and kicking around the Atlanta music scene for over ten years. With seven previous releases on his own independent label, he has used prior experience astutely to produce as deft and varied a collection of tunes on Beneath The Velvet Sun as are destined to enhance an already substantial repetition. If discerning audiophiles are seeking a skillfully produced CD that infuses its hook-laden melodies with a strong sense of narrative and character, yet avoids the common pitfall of having almost every song sound like a clone of its predecessor, then they can not do much better than to sit back and let this skilled musician and his crew lead them through this astonishing collection. If one is seeking thought-provoking narrative, Mullins will not disappoint.

Beneath The Velvet Sun begins by echoing the format so successful on the earlier hit song, Lullaby; a shuffling drumbeat evolves into a gritty groove as Up All Night unfolds its wry narrative of a drug addict, a failed love affair and an abysmal punk band. Mullins talk-chants his way to the chorus which explodes into a chorus as catchy as it is melodious. The singer's range, though somewhat less than extensive, is well suited to his material, adding both charm and substance to the overall effect of the song, which serves well as a catchy lead-in to what has surfaced as the CD's first single, Everywhere I Go. Mullins plays pop star most effectively on this infectious bit of pop music confectionery, combining a lyric that transcends run-of-the-mill by far with a chorus that lodges not uncomfortably in the brain - all this and superior production values to boot!

Leave the room for a moment and you would not be blamed on your return if you were to believe that someone had slipped the work of an entirely different artist into the music machine; such is the versatility of Mullins. Certainly, this is as much a reflection of his multi-faceted talent as a writer and singer as it is a testament to his experience in the music industry over the last decade. Moreover, he has chosen to collaborate extensively for the first time, sharing writing credits on several numbers; this, too, is a factor in the several styles, both singing and writing, found throughout this opus. Add to the mix the largest budget ever to fall into Mullins' lap and you have all the elements that have been instrumental in the production of this engaging work.

Amy's Eyes contemplates the inconsistencies and contradictions of a teen-aged relative; a series of half-talked, half-sung verses catalogue elements as diverse as a "Bless me" uttered after a sneeze by Amy as she wipes her nose on her "Kill Whitey" shirt; each verse leads into a powerful chorus that majestically distills the incongruities of Amy's youth into her overwhelmingly hopeful future. Something To Believe In rides the same trail as a John Denver folk-country-rock hybrid, liltingly smooth delivery, contemplatively clever lyrics: ..."sitting there at your desk / Sucking on the corporate breast / You turned out like the rest...". Despite quirky instrumentation, slightly askew lyrics, and a heartfelt vocal, Valentine barely rises above being just another love song, though rise it does. Into the midst of this collection of pop triumphs, Mullins dares to insert a country gem of heartbreak and anguish; this listener does not doubt for one moment the singer's sincerity as, in both title and chorus, he mournfully laments, Lonesome, I Know You Too Well.

From the folk-rock vignettes of life on the road in North On 95 through the inspection of the lives of those wounded by love in Yellow Dog Sun or Santa Fe, Mullins presents his vision of life in fragments, truths glimpsed as if in the shards of a broken mirror. With his distinctive slant on story-telling and his mastery of diverse yet effective personae and musical styles, he has created a worthy entry in the catalogue of engaging popular music.

Following the success of his Columbia Record debut, 1998's Soul Core, Shawn Mullins produced a retrospective sampler that covers the first ten years of his career on his own independent label; as one might expect, it is titled The First Ten Years. As a sampler, it is a highly effective summary of Mullins' roots, entertainingly demonstrative of his versatility and growth as an artist.

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