33 West St.
Annapolis, MD, 21401
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is 21 and over
The Atlanta-based folksinger/bandleader best known for his Top Ten hit "Lullaby", Shawn Mullins, has undergone a series of transformative experiences, leading to a second coming for the veteran artist. Mullins readily admits that several of the songs on his new album, My Stupid Heart, address his perceived relationship failures. In fact, many were written as he was falling out of his third marriage; in the title tune, he actually chides himself for being such a romantic. But it's also a bit of a joke, he says, because he firmly believes in following his heart — no matter where it leads.
That oh-so-fallible, yet essential part of our being is, it turns out, the guiding force behind just about every song on the album — the theme of which, he says, is summed up most succinctly by another song title: "It All Comes Down to Love."
In that respect, Mullins says, it's not all that different from most of his discography — which includes 1998's Soul's Core, the album that shot him to fame on the strength of its Grammy-nominated No. 1 hit, "Lullaby," and 2006's 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor, which contained his AAA/Americana No. 1, "Beautiful Wreck." (He also co-wrote the Zac Brown Band's No. 1 country tune, "Toes.") But in the years since his last release, 2010's Light You Up, Mullins has experienced more ups and downs on his romantic roller-coaster — a ride he's decided to step off for a while. He's also stayed busy co-parenting his son, Murphy, with his second wife.
Still, nothing inspires songwriters quite like a breakup, and Mullins confirms, "This record came out of all that; all the feelings, all the heartache."
He remembers sitting on his porch one afternoon, thinking, "I know this is all in my head, but it'd be a lot easier just to blame it on my heart.' And then I thought, Yeah, it's my stupid heart.'" Next thing he knew, lines like "my stupid heart it plays for keeps/through hoops of fire it bounds and leaps" just started tumbling out. In the studio, the song took on a classic vibe, with impeccable instrumentation and production that sounds as if George Martin supervised.
In other words, it's gorgeous. And it carries a momentum that shifts it away from feeling like a woe-is-me wallow in self-pity. Throughout the album, Mullins deftly balances songs of suffering — from the title tune and "Go and Fall," to the powerful, yet subtle social commentary of "Ferguson" (which contains no mention of guns or police officers) — with songs such as "Roll on By," co-written with Max Gomez, which strikes an upbeat note of hope.
There's humor, too. Sure, much of it is wrapped in sardonic cynicism; "It all Comes Down to Love" targets TV preachers, politicians, the NRA, Wall Street and street dealers, and "Pre-Apocalyptic Blues" hilariously lampoons the doom-mongers arming themselves against Armageddon. But the Levon Helm-influenced "Never Gonna Let Her Go" reveals the thrills of riding that afore-mentioned roller-coaster, and even the sigh of resignation that is "The Great Unknown" contains lines so striking, you can't help but smile at their brilliance and depth. (Example: "They got a mirror back behind the whiskey shelves/Where we don't dare look back at ourselves.")
Mullins majored in music education at North Georgia College, where he began performing in earnest and released his first album (cassette, actually) of originals. After graduating, he served in the U.S. Army Reserves at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he jumped out of a few airplanes before jumping full-time into music in 1992. Eventually, he formed his own label, and in 1998, he released Soul's Core. Steve Craig, a DJ at Atlanta's modern-rockish WNNX-FM, picked up on "Lullaby," spinning it on his "Locals Only" music show. He took it to program director Leslie Fram, who not only put it heavy rotation, but sent copies to a few dozen fellow PDs. Soon, Mullins was getting regular airplay on at least 15 stations. He went from modestly hoping sales might reach 20,000 units, far beyond his four-digit average, to moving 30,000 copies per week, on his way to platinum status.
Labels that had ignored his earlier efforts to get their attention suddenly clamored to sign him; at least 25 came knocking. Columbia won the bidding war; Mullins spent six years there before moving to Vanguard, which recently joined forces with Rounder/Sugar Hill under the Concord Music Group umbrella.
When Chuck Cannon heard "Lullaby" on a Nashville station, he actually did a U-turn and beelined toward a record store. Cannon, who co-wrote John Michael Montgomery's Academy of Country Music Song of the Year, "I Love the Way You Love Me," and several hits for Toby Keith, among other country stars, loved Mullins' work.
In addition to his collaborations for this album, Mullins spent some of his time since Light You Up writing with other Nashville hitmakers; he also contributed to the striking 2012 album, Mercyland: Songs for the Rest of Us. But he admits he's eager to hit the road again.
Compared to most musical artists in the Americana genre, Malone seems like a pair of distressed blue jeans amidst a sea of pantsuits. Unlike the surplus of self-professed rootsy rebels, one listen to this woman from Dixie and you know you’re hearing the real thing. Credit Michelle Malone with doing things her own way for the better part of the past three decades, and defying expectations in the process.
She’s had her share of success, courtesy of some 15 studio albums, her own independent SBS Records label, numerous top flight film and TV soundtracks, kudos from the critics and collaborations with a remarkable roster of amazing artists, among them, the late Gregg Allman, ZZ Top, Ellen DeGeneres and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Chuck Leavell, the master keyboardist who has backed both the the Rolling Stones and the Allman Brothers, cited her as “One of the best female vocalists I’ve ever heard.” It’s little wonder that Guitar World once hailed Malone as “Equal parts guitar slinger and sweet songstress, with masterful lyrical introspection – sublime to raucous.”
Malone isn’t content to simply acknowledge her accomplishments.
A singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer whose music is informed by blues, roadhouse rock & roll and Georgia soul, Malone’s stunning and stirring new album Slings and Arrows (Due February 16 via SBS Records) pushes the parameters even further. It’s upbeat, defiant, and jubilant, flush with the raw energy and emotion that’s always been a part of her signature sound all while nudging her deeper into some personal territory she hasn’t explored before. Malone deals with issues that have been burned into her psyche and affected her deeply. These songs speak to desire and disappointment, optimism and awareness, all with a driving and fiery conviction. “It wasn’t planned that way”, she insists, “but inevitably, that’s how the album evolved”.
“The past year seemed to alternate between darkness and light,” Malone reflects. “It’s kind of been the arc of my life in general, but even more so over the past year. In a very real sense, this album is a microcosm of issues that I’ve rencountered, and in writing this record, it became a kind of therapy. It helped change my perspective, and I suspect that there are messages here that can offer affirmation to others as well.”
While it’s not a concept album in the strictest sense, Slings and Arrows does look at a myriad of scenarios from the perspective of the characters that populate these songs. It’s through their hardships that Malone draws parallels with situations she’s encountered in recent years with her friends and family. In that way, Malone offers both a connection and a catalyst for dealing with these universal difficulties.
Slings and Arrows is more than mere meditation or rumination. Malone, an Atlanta native, describes it as a “Georgia record,” due to the fact that the musicians, studios, and even those responsible for the visual art are all Georgians. ”I take a lot of pride in Georgia and the importance that Georgia music has played not only in my music but also in American music in general,” she says. “Georgians such as Little Richard, James Brown, Ray Charles all laid the ground work. Without them, we would never have had Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones - there would be no rock and roll.”
As the New York Times once pointed out, Malone is "The kind of singer and songwriter who can jolt things into overdrive." That’s best evidenced by the fact that the record was recorded quickly live in the studio. It took all of five days to get the songs on tape. “I aim for authenticity,” Malone insists. “I don’t know how to do it any other way. I’m at my best when I’m just being me.”
Produced by Malone herself, recorded by Jeff Bakos and mixed and mastered by Gerry Hansen, Slings and Arrows finds her handling vocals, brandishing electric and acoustic guitars (including her signature slide guitar), harp, and mandolin, with additional support from guitarist Doug Kees, bassist Robbie Handley, drummer Christopher Burrows and percussionist Trish Land.
Malone slyly adds half jokingly and half seriously, “These Slings and Arrows have the power to defeat your blues, move your shoes and put you back together, too!” Who doesn’t want that?