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Shawn Mullins - Live at the Variety Playhouse

Live at the
Variety Playhouse

Shawn Mullins

Vanguard Records - 78979 2

Available from

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

On half this concert recording, Shawn Mullins puts his personal stamp on a full-blooded Petty / Springsteen / Seger style enouncing a stronger presence of folk than is standard…though that Springsteen guy tries his best to be folky. Early in the very long set—the CD's crammed full of songs—Is It All in My Head exposes that element nicely, as does the follower, The Ballad of Kathryn Johnston. The electric band's a sextet, Mullins singing and playing an acoustic guitar in the middle while Peter Stroud tips in the smokin' electric leads and rhythm. Organ, bass, drums, pedal steel, and mando take up the rest in a rockin' electric set maintaining a high level of energy. Even the mellower group cuts, like Anchored in You and Santa Fe, build up their passion, though there's a broad infusion of tracks from the stripped-down side, Mullins playing and singing solo.

As said, this CD's full, the equivalent of what used to be a 2-LP set, and the presentation is engaging, ranging from driving rock and roll to delicate folk. The acoustic segment discloses Mullins' sensitivities to the plight of the middle and lower classes, the people forgotten and ignored by the glitz of television and media circuses dragging us numb into the capitalist nightmare, people who know how to live beyond the rules but suffer for it. Twin Rocks, Oregon nails that.

That side takes up about half the CD, bookended by the rockers, and is paced well, with the second half of the electric end tempered a bit as it glides back in, more contemplative, as Cold Black Heart illustrates. "Lullaby" takes a shot at the glitter crowd (Seger, Sonny & Cher, etc.) before ending on the hoary House of the Rising Sun, starting quietly, building up a head of steam, and hurtling the gig to a close, about the best rendition of the song since the Animals made it famous in the 60s.

Track List:

  • Beautiful Wreck (Mullins / Philips / Altman / Droge)
  • All in my Head (Mullins / Hansen)
  • The Ballad of Kathryn Johnston (Mullins / Kahler)
  • Anchored in You
  • Santa Fe
  • Ballad of Billy Jo McKay
  • Fraction of a Man
  • Home
  • Lonesome, I Know You Too Well
  • Twin Rocks, Oregon
  • The Gulf of Mexico
  • Shimmer
  • Cabbagetown
  • Cold Black Heart
  • Lullaby
  • House of the Rising Sun (traditional)
All songs written by Shawn Mullins except as noted.
Edited by: David N. Pyles (

Edited by: David N. Pyles


Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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