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Pop Music Review

Inspired Storytelling Imbues Mullins' Songs

April 14, 1999|NATALIE NICHOLS

Shawn Mullins is the type of guy who sits quietly at the bar and listens to other people's stories, then goes home and writes his own versions. At 31, the Atlanta-based singer-songwriter has logged enough time on the road to have really honed his craft, and his understated gift for capturing characters shone throughout his sold-out Troubadour show on Sunday.

Weaving an alternately driving and dreamy blend of country, folk, rock and blues, Mullins and his backing quartet drew their hourlong set from his major-label debut, "Soul's Core," as well as earlier self-released albums. His classic sense of storytelling reflects influences from Hank Williams to Steve Earle, but Mullins' folk images are thoroughly modern.

Though the band's sweeping dynamics and feel-good vibe recall a less pretentious Counting Crows in such soaring contemporary pop anthems as the hit "Lullaby," Mullins proved a compelling troubadour during his brief solo acoustic set, which included a talked-sung tune about a hobo artist he encountered in "Twin Rocks, Oregon."

His best numbers limned lives of quiet desperation, whether the fish-out-of-water world of a Miami woman stranded in Kansas ("Tannin Bed Song") or the bleak barmaid's tale "The Gulf of Mexico." These songs displayed an eye for detail that gives Mullins a kinship with Tom Petty--as an artist with obvious influences but who nevertheless makes his own impression.

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