Shawn Mullins

Beneath the Velvet Sun

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"Lullaby" was more than just a one-off novelty hit that unexpectedly established the career of longtime indie singer/songwriter Shawn Mullins in 1998-1999 (though it was that, too). It was a song that encapsulated both of Mullins' strongest traits. In its semi-spoken verses, he revealed his eye for detail and his sardonic outlook; in its choruses, he demonstrated his ability to craft a pop hook. On Beneath the Velvet Sun, his first real major-label album (its predecessor, Soul's Core, was picked up by Columbia after release on his own SMG label), Mullins leans more to the latter tendency, but he provides enough of the former to pacify the audience he earned with "Lullaby." The album's first single, "Everywhere I Go," is a good example of Mullins' pop talent, a catchy but somewhat weightless effort with a bland love lyric. But the song Columbia really should have released as the first single is the lead-off track, "Up All Night," a story song about a lowlife rock & roll couple full of Mullins' wry observations and the album's only song to be half-spoken in the style of "Lullaby." A bigger budget allows the artist to indulge in string and horn sections here and there, demonstrating the breadth of his stylistic reach. But the fans he earned with "Lullaby" are more likely to respond to more conventional pop/rock songs like "Amy's Eyes," not only because of its catchiness but also because of its name-dropping third-person description. Another good song is "Santa Fe," a driving song with a twangy guitar hook and more of Mullins' individual characterizations. If one of these songs takes off, it may not matter (at least to the bottom line) that there are too many simpleminded, vague love songs among the other tracks. But Beneath the Velvet Sun is the uneven work of a talented artist who doesn't seem to trust the idiosyncratic approach that brought him to national attention enough to really let himself go. You can hardly blame him for trying to play it safe, given his one-hit wonder status, but the album's very bow to commercialism may keep it from being the hit it might have been.

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