Call it a comeback or just a continuation. After a five-year sabbatical, Shawn Mullins' 2006 release was a somewhat unexpected gem that even yielded a minor hit in "Beautiful Wreck." That album not only coalesced all Mullins' strengths as a sharp lyricist, a winning composer, and a distinctive vocalist, but revived a career most would have left for dead, and was one of his finest collections. The 2008 follow-up titled honeydew, inexplicably spelled with a lower case "h," shows that the previous platter was no fluke. This dozen-song set kicks off with another should-be hit single in the ringing mid-tempo "All in My Head" that boasts an impossibly catchy, strangely familiar melody. It's "na na" hook is perfect for crowd singalongs, making the song as commercial and crossover worthy as any he has written. Although composed in 2002 and left to languish on the Scrubs soundtrack, this is timeless folk-pop given a fresh arrangement and a new lease on life. There's nothing as immediate on the rest of honeydew, but that's not a problem since Mullins' character studies, which dominate the track list, are wonderfully fleshed out pieces. The forlorn old black woman who dies alone in "The Ballad of Kathryn Johnson," the confirmed bachelor mama's boy named Harry of "Fraction of a Man," and the rest of the "Nameless Faces" are intricate, vividly detailed portraits of the forgotten folks who populate Mullins' work here. Musically he shifts from acoustic performances, some with just unplugged guitar, to slightly larger yet still rootsy band productions that change moods while keeping the project from settling into any specific groove. "See That Train" rattles through Tom Waits' styled huff-clanging percussion only to lead into the lovely yet chilling, mandolin driven, anti-Iraq war ballad "For America." Contributions from guitarist Peter Stroud (Sheryl Crow), who returns from Mullins' last album, and longtime Atlanta friends Clay Cook, soul-blues singer Francine Reed (Lyle Lovett), and drummer Gerry Hanson (Randall Bramblett) help create the warmth that courses through the proceedings. Some of these mini-dramas such as "Cabbagetown" tell of Mullins' family and upbringing in Atlanta, and although this can't be considered Southern rock, there is a definable red clay roots approach that lovingly swathes these compositions. Hanson recorded and mixed the session in his Georgia studio creating a vibe that's loose, homey, and enticing. Songs such as the personal reminiscence of "Now That You're Gone" are intimate reflections that could easily deteriorate into schmaltz but are rescued by Mullins' heartfelt vocals and the band's clean, honest approach. That makes the song a tearful and totally believable excursion into the loss of an old love you almost wish would never end. It closes out a terrific folk-rock project that shows Mullins is not just here to stay, but on top of his always impressive game. [Vanguard issued a Limited Edition in 2008.]
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