3025 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19104
Doors 6:30 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is all ages
Singer-songwriter Shawn 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.”)
That song is one of several Mullins penned with his main songwriting collaborator, Chuck Cannon, who happens to be married to the album’s producer, Lari White. They not only introduced him to the song’s third author, Christina Aldendifer, but many of the album’s players as well. (More about them later.) Cannon also co-wrote the title track, “Ferguson” and the deceptively shimmering “Go and Fall.” Gomez is co-credited on the dramatic “Gambler’s Heart”; Patrick Blanchard shares authorship of another character-based song, “Sunshine.” Whether composing alone or with others — including Matthew Sweet and Pete Droge, his bandmates in the early-2000s trio the Thorns — Atlanta native Mullins has always been a dynamic songsmith. Forging influences from folk and R&B to traditional country and even Broadway musicals (the funky ones, like Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell) with pop-leaning melodic sensibilities, he crafts memorable, affecting tunes best defined as Americana.
Mullins’ maternal grandfather was a big-band bass player who also played Dixieland jazz and polka; his paternal grandfather, a railroad man, loved listening to Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. When Mullins was in the womb, his mom serenaded him with “House of the Rising Sun” and “Ode to Billie Joe,” accompanying herself on ukulele. (To this day, he has a thing for Bobbie Gentry.) His dad’s record and reel-to-reel collection ranged from Kris Kristofferson and Leonard Cohen to Little Richard, Ray Charles and Isaac Hayes, plus plenty of rock ‘n’ roll. It all made an impact.
With a supple baritone that still allows him to channel Prince, as well as wail the blues and growl with grit — not to mention rock those talkin’ rhythms — Mullins has been engaging audiences since he won his first high-school talent contest with his own composition. That $100 check lodged a little lightbulb in his brain. It clicked on when he heard a career-class talk by Amy Ray, then an Emory University freshman but already performing with Emily Saliers (just before they became Indigo Girls).
“She played a few songs and talked about being a performing songwriter,” he recalls. “It helped me focus, because she was so engaging and intense and punk, yet able to perform just with a guitar and her voice. I wanted to be just like her.”
The most northern of the New Mexico pueblos, the hamlet of Taos, sits approximately 7,000 feet above sea level. It is an hour and half drive north of Santa Fe, or rather, just remote enough to stave off the casually curious person. Fiercely independent, the town, steeped in natural beauty, has long attracted artists and freethinkers of every stripe. It is within this bouillabaisse of nature, art and spirituality that we encounter Max Gomez. A young singer-songwriter in the seasoned vein of Jackson Browne and John Prine, Gomez grew up splitting his time between the sloping mountains of Taos and, for a period, the rolling plains of Kansas. On his family’s ranch in Kansas, Gomez still lends a hand with chores but relishes the time he can spend out on the lake practicing the art of fly-fishing. But it is in Taos, where he was ultimately inspired to explore his art and the ethos behind it.
The son of an artisanal furniture craftsman, Gomez grew up watching his father, learning the tools of the trade while simultaneously learning his way around the frets of his guitar. The workmanlike quality of his songwriting carries over from his days spent in the woodshed through an economy of words, phrase and narrative. A blues enthusiast from an early age, the young Gomez immersed himself in the primordial Delta and traditional folk blues of Lead Belly, Big Bill Broonzy and, of course, Robert Johnson. Though 1,200 miles and decades removed from his Mississippi heroes, Gomez had his imagination to fill in the gaps. Having honed his chops on the blues, Max turned his interest to traditional American folk music; “I’m influenced by the old stuff,” Max admits. “To me, that’s the best music.” As the Harry Smith anthology gave way to contemporary masters Townes Van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark and John Hiatt, so did Gomez’s songwriting. “The songs I write are not real straightforward. You have to decode them. I like when the listener has to create their own story, rather than be told what’s happening.” In short, storytelling that oscillates between everyman poetics and enigma.
In the span of its ten songs, the Jeff Trott (Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow) produced Rule The World traverses varying themes of heartbreak, regret, young love, desperation and, ultimately redemption. “Run From You”, the album’s first single and co-written with Trott, reveals Max’s story telling skills. Gomez explains, “Sometimes I refer to this one as an anti-love song. We all come across trouble and often take the wrong road even when we know we should turn back.” With his smoky voice, Gomez sings of desperation for change on “Rule The World” and on “Never Say Never”, young love is likened to a “cool kiss in the August summer heat,” as the protagonist laments its fleeting nature. While the LP’s pop instincts are evident, Rule The World is balanced by Gomez’s love of roots music; see the blues-driven “Ball And Chain.”
While many young artists write songs with the mere intention of entertaining the masses, Max’s songs are filled with the raw emotion and capture the spirit of those who came before him. In an age of ever increasing false fronts and posturing, it’s rare to catch a glimpse of a soul bared. But that is exactly what Gomez has done.
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