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Rising Stars [Issue #19]
Shawn Mullins: Pickin' In The Parlor
By Dave Lewis
9th Ward Pickin' Parlor (CD Vanguard)

Best known for his 1998 hit single “Lullaby” and his work with singer-songwriter supergroup The Thorns, Atlanta-based Shawn Mullins has returned to his indie roots.

Forsaking the headaches of major labels, Mullins is releasing the rootsy, stripped-down 9th Ward Pickin’ Parlor on Vanguard records. Named for the New Orleans studio where much of it was recorded, the album was made with music fans, not Top 40 radio, in mind. ONE WAY recently caught up with Mullins for a phone interview.

After tiring of creative differences with his former label, Sony/BMG, Mullins ended up at Vanguard after searching for, as Mullins puts it, “somebody who’s not concentrating on taking me to number one or top 40, because I’m too old for that.” “I’m just ready to get back to some real music,” he continues, “I think I was in such a rut in making a certain type of records.”

“To me, if you are being honest as a songwriter and a recording artist in the end, you’re fans will connect with that,” Mullins says. “That’s what I learned in the beginning, and I think I’m relearning it again.”

Mullins updated his sound by a using minimalist approach on Parlor, a Southern gothic record which features a slew of country-tinged folk tunes, some raw blues-inspired tracks, and even a Johnny Cash-style murder ballad called “Cold Black Heart.” One of his secret weapons on the record was the Parlor’s owner, musician/engineer Mike West, who has previously worked with Mullins. West’s New Orleans studio was tragically destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, but he has since relocated to Lawrence, Kansas. In the wake of Katrina, Mullins decided to tip his hat to the Crescent City on his take of the traditional “House of the Rising Sun,” which closes the album.

Most of the acoustic tracks were recorded with Mullins and West “sittin’ face to face in the studio,” Mullins fondly recalls. “A lot of that stuff got tracked live,” he continues, “If there’s a little mistake here and there, we left it if the overall track was good instead of trying to replace with some type of computerized fix. We just decided to leave things be.”

“The neighborhood itself was a trip,” Mullins says of the studio’s location. “There were tons of kids everywhere, kids on miniature motorcycles flying up and down the street, occasional gunshots in the distance. For the most part though, it was just a really sweet neighborhood, really friendly and family oriented. But it is the 9th Ward, so it’s also tough. I think it had a lot to do with the sound of the record recording there, not only with Mike but just the atmosphere there. It was really a kind of brutal but honest approach to recording.”

The busy singer-songwriter hits the road again this spring, and is playing the Troubadour in Los Angeles on March 16.

9th Ward Pickin' Parlor

Pickin' In The Parlor Shawn Mullins 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor

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