Making both electric and acoustic versions of the same material often favors one version over the other, but Shawn Mullins delivers excellently on each version of his 1998 classic album Soul’s Core in this two-disc package entitled Soul’s Core Revival. Disc One features a full band of top-notch musicians from his touring band Soul Carnival with such luminaries as multi-instrumentalist Randall Bramblett and keyboard giant Radoslav Lorkovic. Disc Two is solo acoustic and done very casually and warmly as Mullins introduces the story or impetus behind each tune.
The big hit from the original was “Lullaby” It, like the others, is given new life from a more mature perspective of the man who wrote them traveling the country in his Ford minivan with his guitar and dog Roadie. Mullins claims that he sings the songs differently now as he’s been playing them in live sets with his band in stretched out versions which he reprises here.
Mullins, with producer and drummer Gerry “Gator” Hansen (also a member of Bramblett’s band) and the album’s original engineer Glenn Matullo, collaborated with legendary engineer/mixer John Keane (R.E. M>, Indigo Girls, Widespread Panic) at Keane’s studio in Athens, GA. They recorded live with no Pro Tools and minimal overdubs. In addition to Hansen, Bramblett and Lorkovic, the band includes acclaimed blues/soul/roots artist Michelle Malone on backing vocals (“And on a Rainy Night”) with guitarists Davis Causey and Patrick Blanchard, Tom Ryan (bass/sax) and Wayne Postell on trumpet. They are top notch players who embellish the tunes with little direction.
The solo acoustic disc provides the insights to the songs. For example we learn how Joni Mitchell and Ani DiFranco inspired his mega radio hit “Lullaby,” the tragic and ultimately optimistic outlook of “Shimmer” and little facts like revealing that he was really “parked on the state line on a cold November day” when he wrote “The Gulf of Mexico” in the parking lot of the famed Flora-Bama roadhouse. You’ll learn that many of these songs started out as journal entries as Mullins was traveling and playing small clubs. The Northwest songs “September in Seattle” and Twin Rocks, Oregon” are especially memorable in this context.
The full band versions replicate what you’d hear in Mullins show today. “Anchored in You” replaces original instrumentation with New Orleans horns and a more soulful, grooving tempo. “And on a Rainy Night” becomes more haunting with Malone’s vocal and Bramblett’s tenor solo. “You Mean Everything to Me” gets transformed from a folk ballad into a gospel-like hymn while retaining its original stately qualities. Over the intervening years, Mullins has acquired a more soulful delivery and maybe even a bit more vocal range, heard to full effect on the album’s only cover, his rendition of Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”
The imagery runs the gamut from liquor stores to deserted boardwalks, holy waterfalls and “Hank’s lost highway.” The human element is evident and touching in several songs with memorable lyrics such as “I heard a voice from my soul’s core saying freedom’s just a metaphor” or the ode to his friend Patrick Cosgrove – “You died way too soon/But I can still feel you /Warm in a circle of friends.” Even phrases from “Anchored in You” – “I’m stoned in San Francisco with you on my mind” and from “Anchored in You” – “The road is my home/And my spirit is wild” become especially warm in the perspective of his singing tunes that he wrote as a younger man in his mid-thirties.
This is emotional, beautifully rendered music that’s engaging and riveting.