Sean McConnell is an anomaly for our music scene. A Massachusetts bred folk singer with soul overtones that connected to Texas via writing appointments with Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers. The Hold My Beer connections fostered some tremendous songs (“In My Arms Instead”, “If We Ever Make It Home” among many others) and it also created a need and desire to tour Texas. Opening shows for Rogers and Bowen proved a fertile investment for McConnell as each night his audience grew through his own show and the multiple shoutouts of “I wrote this one with my buddy Sean McConnell…y’all need to check him out.” The endorsement of two fo the biggest scene names lent buzz, McConnell’s knockout vocal delivery lent credibility. McConnell’s hold on the Texas region was further emboldened by relentless touring of the circuit and a string of albums that delivered regional radio hits and a loyal fanbase.
As time has gone on, McConnell has continued to evolve and push the envelope as far as what an artist with a “Texas Country” core fanbase can achieve. He’s much more than that and he continues to prove it. His latest release, Secondhand Smoke, dropped today. It continues the trajectory of following McConnell’s own muse. A prolific writer known to write upward of 100 songs per year at times, McConnell lends his pen to national acts but tends to keep the best stuff for himself. This latest album is no different in that regard. Where this album differs is in its scope. McConnell took it back to old school ways of doing things. He recorded the record at home, played most of the parts himself and layered it just the way he saw fit from the production chair. That is no small feat, but he songs are the better for it.
After several passes through the thirteen tracks, two stayed with me the most. “Shaky Bridges” and “Greetings From Niagara Falls”. It is on these two tracks that McConnell delivers his most raw, rootsiness. Stripped down, pure Americana but with the fresh feeling of having Sean McConnell’s rich voice present them. The former is an unworn take on the road weary troubadour lifestyle; the latter describes yearning and lost opportunity in a way truly befitting of the emotions one feels in such scenarios.
The most adventurous track is “Alien”. David Bowie has influenced country-tinged music before, but perhaps never this directly or in the Texas-Americana scene at all. It’s a new way to tell a love story over the trippy, experimental production McConnell was able to bring from his home studio. Throughout the album, McConnell paints with brushes that he may not have been able to reach for in a traditional setting. Unbound by convention or expectation, McConnell’s turn at creating an album mostly alone proves to be an outright success.