Ninth Ward Pickin’ Parlour
Despite being best known for the 1998 smash hit single “Lullaby,” there’s undoubtedly much more to singer/songwriter Shawn Mullins than just that one song. The success of “Lullaby,” it seems, was both a blessing and a curse for Mullins: the pay dirt of a Top Ten single brought the reward his years of hard slog in coffeehouses and clubs deserved; but equally, major-label life conflicted with his organic, DIY spirit forged during years as an indie artist. Now, after a stint in the songwriting supergroup The Thorns, Mullins is signed to Vanguard and his creative juices are flowing once again, as demonstrated by the sheer diversity of folk, country, soul and pop in evidence on Ninth Ward Pickin’ Parlour.
The delicate, sparse and beautiful acoustic track “Blue As You,” co-written with Pete Droge, may be a subdued way to open the album, but it’s a statement of intent from Mullins that Ninth Ward Pickin’ Parlour is a record made on his own terms. The rocking first single, “Beautiful Wreck,” ups the tempo before the intriguing ballad “Cold Black Heart” more than lives up to the album title with some superb guitar work, while the simple, achingly pretty duo of “Kelly’s Song” and “We Could Go” powerfully showcase the acoustic heart of the record.
Ninth Ward Pickin’ Parlour is named after the New Orleans studio the album was recorded in, now sadly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, but Mullins’s stirring cover of “House of the Rising Sun,” the atmospheric “Homemade Wine” and the rootsy “Alaska” all share something of the magic Mullins felt when recording in the studio.
Mullins’s legacy as a solo artist will undoubtedly be defined by “Lullaby,” and some people may be disappointed at the lack of a radio-ready successor to that song on Ninth Ward Pickin’ Parlour. However, there’s still an abundance of riches on this record, and freed from the corporate millstone, it’s obvious that Mullins has re-emerged both inspired and energized, back to his roots in both sound and spirit.
Shawn Mullins: www.shawnmullins.com