Sean McConnell is a name that has exploded out of virtually nowhere and into the collective consciousness of Texas/Red Dirt fans over the past two years. First popping up as a co-writer with Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen, After a couple of touring runs through the region showcasing his blazing live show, McConnell began to establish himself as the next big thing in the Texas scene. In a flash, his early EPs were spreading like wildfire as the word of mouth buzz began to grow and everyone eagerly anticipated his full-length debut album. The anticipation is over in the form of Saints, Thieves, Liars out April 13.
The album is a revelation and a confirmation that the buzz was completely justified and well-warranted. McConnell’s soaring voice lilts across the valleys of his grandiose melodies, as they are accompanied on the journey by powerfully thoughtful and introspective lyrics. The instrumentation leans a little to the rock side of things and there are subtle hints of McConnell’s spiritually rooted musical roots. Several of the songs on the album will be familiar to those who have caught McConnell in concert over the past couple years; and they should be extremely happy with the studio treatment given their live favorites. “Caroline” is a bouncy and breezy trip about a girl’s lust for fame and the depths she would travel for her goal. The perkiness of the music belies the downtrodden nature of the protagonist, but it makes for one helluva good song.
McConnell can take solo credit for nine of the twelve tracks on this record, in addition to stirring co-writes with Marc Broussard, Deana Carter and Bonnie Baker. His most sobering songwriting effort is “Tell the Truth”, a bleak ballad with sparse instrumentation that showcases the brilliance of his voice, both the singing and songwriting variety. “Saint’s Heart in a Sinners Skin” and McConnell’s take on his very own “Somewhere Beautiful” (also found on Bowen’s If We Ever Make It Home) showcase McConnell’s gift for finding lyrical elegance in the midst of downtrodden streets and life’s mundane activities. “Closing Time” sounds like Townes Van Zandt wrote with Ray Charles and is delivered in a Charlie Rich vocal style that is a throwback to Charles’ landmark Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.
On an album full of standouts, the two songs that required my hand to react like a magnet with the repeat button was live staple “Lie Baby Lie” and the Broussard co-write “So Far Down”. On “Lie Baby Lie”, the scorching and rocking passion that McConnell brings to the classic cheating song is a soulful remedy for a sub-genre of country music that has often sounded like a caricature of itself these past few years. While “So Far Down”, takes a dark delta groove and slowly builds it to a fierce crescendo. Never has honky-tonk heartbreak sounded so resolute.
While there is very little country sounding music on this record, it has a heart and soul straight from below the Mason-Dixon line and ably mixes pop and rock sensibilities to create a whirling dervish of catchy music that lives up to the buzz surrounding McConnell and his blossoming career.