A flash of inspiration turned into an essay of experience
Shawn Mullins was six years and four albums into his recording career when he waxed the 1998 breakthrough album Soulâ€™s Core. He was at the point in a musicianâ€™s career when they start to wonder if theyâ€™ll ever break out of the artistically-rich but commercially-lean orbit in which theyâ€™ve been traveling. The pace of recording often turns studio sessions into snapshots of inspiration, with a long tail of discovery ahead as the album is toured. The initial writing and recording are coated in layers of experience as songs are contextualized in the flow of a live set, developed by a road bandâ€™s chemistry, reflected by audience reaction, and interpreted through the changing circumstances of the performer. Material with artistic depth is in a sense never finished.
Given the pivotal role that Soulâ€™s Core played in Mullinsâ€™ career, itâ€™s no surprise that many of the albumâ€™s songs have remained central to his live set, and that over time, his relationship to the material, and his perspective on its meaning has deepened. For this self-released double-CD, Mullins has re-recorded the album twice: once with his road band, and once in an acoustic solo setting. The formerâ€™s live-in-the-studio setting captures the bandâ€™s decades-long development of the songs as stage material, while the latter more deeply introspects the songwriterâ€™s changes in personal relationship to his younger self. The band disc perfectly blends the tight playing of oft-played material with the stretching and exploration of songs whose core theses have become second nature; the solo disc gives Mullins an opportunity to look back twenty years on his own.
Mullins has doubled down on the soulfulness of these songs with both his singing and touches of organ and horns. His feel for the entirety of each song allows him to hang back at key points so as to emphasize others, exchanging the glow of the adolescent incarnations for versions steeped in the added details of nightly retellings. The spoken word intros to the acoustic renditions nominaly return the material to its songwriter roots, but as with the band versions, Mullins long-term relationship with his material yields a deeper connection than could have been captured at its genesis. This is a terrific gift to longtime fans of the original album, and an interesting entry point for new fans to capture both Mullinsâ€™ early years and his current state. [Â©2018 Hyperbolium]