One of the most enjoyable things about being a reviewer is the ability to introduce people to new and deserving artists. Sean McConnell’s name is not new–he has had an established name in the Texas scene for fifteen years, recording numerous albums as well as writing for better-known artists like Wade Bowen and the Randy Rogers Band. But for casual fans and many serious fans of country music, his new self-titled album will be the first encounter with Sean McConnell. I will immediately say it is not strictly country; some songs are more country than others, but the album leans more toward Americana, or perhaps the rock side of the Texas/red dirt sound. As I’ve said often, it is not the album to buy for fiddle and steel, but there is a lot to love about this album.
The album opens with “Holy Days,” an upbeat, pop rock song about the early days of the band and a girl from the past. McConnell has said much of this album is autobiographical, and this song seems to reflect that, pointing to the days when his band was starting to gain popularity. The driving production fits this song and sets the tone of the album. “Ghost Town” follows–this one is more country rock and sees McConnell visiting his old hometown, only to discover everything has changed, and the people here are all strangers. He sees everything as it once was, but it will never be the same. The lyric “I can’t tell if I wanna build a shrine or just burn it to the ground” captures the conflict in this song perfectly. “Bottom of the Sea,” a re-recording from an earlier EP, is more of the upbeat style found in the opener. the lyrics shouldn’t be overlooked, though–“the hardest part of living is knowing that you’re gonna die, trying to leave a legacy with only so much time. I don’t know about you but I’m getting sick and tired of living on the surface and in between the lines.” The lighthearted production can distract a little from the seriousness of the song at first, but after a couple listens, that starts to add to the song.
Beautiful Rose” is the first song I would call strictly country. The stripped-back production and country instrumentation work well here, as McConnell sings about how life is not always what you expect it to be–“but I’ll take the thorns for this beautiful rose.” It’s a simple, quiet moment on a mostly upbeat album. ‘Hey Mary” is a fun, lighthearted song about trying to make Mary fall in love. McConnell says she can crash at his house, and he will sleep on the floor and let her vent about the guy who made her cry. He says one day he will sing her this song and prove that he knew all along she would fall in love with him eventually. “Best We’ve Ever Been” sees a couple just spending a day together, celebrating their years together and that they are still just as much in love–“Baby, we had no idea, and I would do the same thing if we did.” It’s a simple little song that paints love as just wanting to spend time with each other.
One of the definite highlights of the album is the autobiographical “Queen of St. Mary’s Choir.” sean McConnell sings about his life as “the product of desire between the guitar kid from Hudson and the queen of St. Mary’s choir.” He embraces the characteristics he got from both his paretns, and that he became a musician. Another highlight is “Running underwater”–this one sees McConnell dealing with personal struggles and calling on Jesus to help, if indeed God is out there. The imagery in this song hit me the first time–“Oh, what a dream I had last night. I could not scream, I could not fight. And the more I pushed, and the more I pried, it got harder and harder, like running underwater.” The production and the lyrics blend perfectly here, and it is one you should just listen to. “One Acre of Land” is another very country song and another highlight. McConnell says that he doesn’t have a lot of money but “we could build a dream right where we stand on one acre of land.” It’s another one that speaks for itself with a listen. The album closes with “Babylon,” a song in which a broken relationship is compared to Babylon. This is another one like “Running Underwater,” where the songwriting paints wonderful pictures. “we’re a tattered flag where the mighty fell, we’re a rusty coin in a wishing well, we’re the only lie that you couldn’t sell, Babylon.” Sean McConnell sings this with incredible emotion, and the song builds throughout to match the intensity. It’s an excellent way to close a great album, although ten songs leaves me wishing it were a bit longer.
Overall, this is a great album. The songwriting is excellent in places, and although it isn’t the most country thing out there, it fits within Americana well. It blends styles nicely, and the production on each song works well with the lyrics. Sean McConnell said this album was somewhat personal and autobiographical, and it reflects that authenticity. This is definitely an album worth checking out!