For Shawn Mullins, playing songs from his latest release, honeydew, feels like going home.
Mr. Mullins, who appears Friday with Augusta's own Larry Jon Wilson at the Imperial Theatre, wrote the songs after the passing of his mother. He said her death focused his attention on the people and places of his native Atlanta.
"I don't know if that was my intention in the beginning, but it really came together that way," he said during a recent telephone interview. "For me, she was a real part of Atlanta and a lot of this, a lot of these songs, came from both that grieving and that reflection."
Mr. Mullins often writes from a geographical perspective. His previous CD, 9th Ward Pickin Parlor, was based on his impressions of New Orleans. He said many of the lessons learned about writing about place can be traced to Mr. Wilson.
"He's just such a great songwriter and a storyteller," he said. "He has this specific Georgia thing going on. Larry Jon, for me, is a hero, so it is always especially cool to be able to play with him."
The honeydew songs were recorded with a full band, with Augusta musician Patrick Blanchard on bass. Still, for Mr. Mullins, the mark of quality is how well a song stands up with just him and an acoustic guitar.
"The thing is, before it ever gets to the band, I have to be pretty well into it," he said. "And that happens when you are writing a song. You can pretty much tell. It will ask for your attention."
Although he's known for the 1998 song Lullaby , Mr. Mullins said penning the surprise hit actually derailed his career. He said he had to hype his hit night after night, which caused him to lose sight of his muse, and the exposure made it difficult to work.
"The truth is, I just didn't enjoy it that much," he said. "I, personally, need to be anonymous to create. All that, well, it did make it a sort of weird career."
While another big radio song would be welcome financially, he said the Lullaby experience has taught him a different way to approach success.
"And that's the inner battle with me," he said. "It's something I do think about when I'm writing something that has that sort of radio sound. I know I would handle things differently. I would say no a lot more."
Now, he's playing dates for a smaller but more dedicated fan base. He said that even that is beginning to wear thin, and that in the coming year he would like to pare down his performance schedule and focus on writing.
"What I would like to do is maybe two tours a year, because I do want to write more, even if it is other people singing," he said. "For me, that really does require being stationary."
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT: An Evening with Shawn Mullins and Larry Jon Wilson
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
WHERE: The Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St.
COST: $19; imperialtheatre.com, (706) 722-8341