The new album includes songs about love, contemporary relationships, parenthood, the Great Recession, and the hypnotized gloom that gripped New York in the days after September 11, 2001. They're tied together mostly by Mullins' baritone, with its generous helping of gravelly Southern soul.
Some of these songs could be classified as country, and Mullins has placed some songs on the Nashville hit parade. He had a hand in the clever recent beach anthem "Toes," a number-one hit for the Zac Brown Band. But generally he avoids the uses of sentiment and formal convention that often define music as country. Even a simple ballad like "I Knew a Girl" breaks its pattern with an image of "a broken soul and a complicated smile."
Mullins writes solo but also collaborates with songwriters from the country sphere (notably Chuck Cannon, who suggested the "colors of the lie" line), and sometimes the latter group of songs has the feel of a humorous release from the task of working toward the lowest common denominator. The title track "Light You Up" has a completely ordinary sung refrain--"I just want to light you up, light you up like a fire"--but the spoken verses parody seduction lyrics with drawled, just slightly improbable rhymes: "Everybody wants a puff of your pipe dream / Everybody wants a lick of your ice cream."
This underrated Southern songwriter comes to The Ark on November 1.