While some artists were understandably struggling to stay creative during the turmoil of the past 18 months, that definitely was not the case for Nashville-based Sean McConnell. The Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter and producer not only produced records for four other artists out of his studio during this period but worked on a new album of his own, “ A Horrible Beautiful Dream” , which is due for release on 6th August via Soundly Records .
As he explains with regard to the slowdown brought about by the events of 2020, “Time seems to breed creativity, especially when there’s very little else going on. This period has forced everybody, internally and externally, globally and socially, to take a good look at our lives and examine it. Everything from our marriages to our workout routines, social injustice to planet politics and religion, spirituality and our internal environment… everything has come to the surface,” McConnell notes. “It’s been the tipping point of so many things right now, so obviously that bleeds over into art and music.”.Consequently on this upcoming release Sean explores such topics and examines both the frailty and strength of the human spirit throughout the 13 tracks, 11 of which are self-penned and the remaining 2 co-writes.
But while he used the chaotic time in which it was made as his point of reference the album he has given us still manages to be timeless with a much wider relevance. Its title is taken from lyrics contained in the closing track, “ Remember You’re Here”, a song delivered with an almost prayer-like vocal fragility over the simplest of acoustic guitar accompaniments and in which Sean urges the listener to be grateful for small mercies and put the craziness of the world into perspective. Although the majority of the tracks were written during the past year or so, he has also included a couple from his back catalogue which until now hadn’t been a “ fit” on projects……he released the first of his many albums/EPs back in 2000 and has written for artists including Christina Aguilera, Brett Young ( including his double-platinum hit “ Mercy” ), Tim McGraw, Brothers Osborne and Little Big Town.
I must admit that as an artist in his own right Sean only truly fell under my radar relatively recently when I saw him over here in the UK a few years ago opening for both Ashley Monroe and Ashley McBryde and promoting his last album “ Secondhand Smoke”. I was immediately drawn to him both as an engaging performer with a stunner of a voice and an intelligent writer, and his name cropped up again when I fell in love with the Ashley Ray album “ Pauline”, one of my favourite releases of the past few years, which Sean worked on as producer and writer ( seems he has a special connection with artists named Ashley??) . With “ A Horrible Beautiful Dream” he further demonstrates what a multi-facetted talent he is.
In the course of his career to date Sean has forged not only working partnerships but friendships with some great names in the music industry, and as you will see from the track listing below the new album features several guests and collaborators including The Wood Brothers on the lead single The 13th Apostle , one of several tracks made available pre album release.
The song sees Sean exploring the notion of staying true to yourself and not feeling forced to go along with something you don’t believe in, even if that means you become an outsider …or as he puts it a “ black sheep”. Particularly appropriate advice during a period that has frequently seemed to polarise opinions on a variety of issues. With its frequent biblical references there’s some appropriately gospel inspired backing vocals, just one example of the attention to detail on each and every track throughout the entire album.
The single’s questioning and reflective thread runs through the entire release and makes it a wonderful thought provoking album in many ways, evident from the start on the opening track “ I Still Believe In You”, which sees Sean giving thanks for the one constant in a shifting world. “ I built my world around something that’s not there any more” he sings, further pondering if it was ever there in the first place. What could have been written as a wistful ballad is presented as a determined, relatively up-tempo song with attack and positivity. Themes of love and gratitude continue on the second track “ Price of Love”, a song with plenty of heartache in the mix which apparently started life as a conversation Sean had with his mother while he was out on the road and missing his loved ones. She offers up some great words of wisdom, telling him to be thankful that he has the capacity ( and people in his life! ) to love in the first place. “ Nothing good comes for free….when you’ve got everything you’ve got everything to lose”. The three-generational aspect to this write is so special, as is the arrangement with its atmospheric steel and strings which are perfect. The beautiful accompanying video, which oozes love, features footage of him enjoying family life with his wife and adoptive daughter.
The more I listen to this album, the more I hear….lyrics, arrangements, vocals are all mesmerising, I hope you get as lost in it as I have done over the past few days and I know I will continue to do for a long time to come.
Sean will be celebrating with an album release show at Nashville’s City Winery on Thursday August 5th ( just a few tickets remaining via the following link, where you can also per-order the album https://linktr.ee/sean_mcconnell ) which kicks off string of US dates including several full band shows . And I’m sure I won’t be alone among his UK fans hoping we’ll see him back over this side of the pond in the not-too distant future.
A Horrible Beautiful Dream track listing:1. I Still Believe In You
2. Price of Love
3. The 13th Apostle (feat. The Wood Brothers)
4. Nothing Anymore
5. The Wonder Years
6. What The Hell Is Wrong With Me (feat. Fancy Hagood)
7. Waiting To Be Moved (feat. Natalie Hemby)
8. I Built You Up
9. Used To Think I Knew
10. Leave The Light On
11. Getting Somewhere
12. As The Curtain Came Down (feat. Audra Mae & Dan Tyminski)
13. Remember You’re Here
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