JPR Live Session: Shawn Mullins

Nov 10, 2017

Shawn Mullins readily admits that several of the songs on his newest 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. 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. 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 with pop-leaning melodic sensibilities, he crafts memorable, affecting tunes best defined as Americana.