Sean McConnell ‘Secondhand Smoke’ Album Review
Sean McConnell is a long way from being a new face on the country music scene. He’s a top songwriter, with credits such as the beautiful ‘Come Wake Me Up’ recorded by Rascal Flatts and his first ever number one, the Brett Young cut ‘Mercy’. Further to that, he has an amazing back catalogue of solo albums, with his most recent self-titled studio album grabbing this writer’s attention. This year he’s already been over in the UK as support for Ashley Monroe on her ‘Sparrow Tour’, where we caught up with him for an interview, and today (8th February) sees him release his latest record, ‘Secondhand Smoke’.
The one thing you can guarantee from Sean McConnell is superb songwriting (now there’s a surprise!) and the opening title-track of the album delivers. As the jangling guitar supports McConnell’s voice, he paints a picture of himself ‘riding shotgun in a gold Sedan’ with his father. The vocals have such emotion, you can feel how Sean is unlocking these memories from his past. You’re back in his home state of Massachusetts with him. A beautiful slide guitar accents the simple picked rhythm. This song is incredibly beautiful in its sparseness. ‘Greetings From Niagara Falls’, a song about calling home from the road, brings a similar personal feeling and warm simplicity.
McConnell does the quiet and beautiful so well, but that’s not his only trick. The second track on the album ‘Here We Go’ is more upbeat and drives along with a thumping rhythm. It feels like the perfect road trip song, oozing with positivity as Sean sings ‘maybe life’s a dream and I’m a XXX, I don’t know’. Later on in the record, ‘I Could Have Been an Angel’ replicates this stomping rhythm. Sean recently told us that a lot of this album is autobiographical and it feels like ‘Here We Go’ sums up life on the road. Lyrically, this is backed up on the next track ‘Shaky Bridges’ as he opens with “I’ve put my name on songs I’d never sing”.
More about ‘Shaky Bridges’, this is a real favourite on the album. It mixes together Sean’s live playing style, solo acoustic with harmonica, but throws in a gospel vocals from the McCrary Sisters to make this huge song that’s put together incredibly simply. Sean recorded this album in his home studio, playing most of the instruments, and it’s a testament to what a great producer he is when you listen to this song. Similar can be said for ‘The Devil’s Ball’, it’s a song that’s musically relatively sparse but creates a rich and dense musical soundscape.
‘Alien’ is a song that changes the tone up slightly. On the face of it, Sean takes a step back from the autobiographical nature of the previous songs. It’s slightly different in terms of style too, feeling much like a big, atmospheric rock song. Sean sings “I’ve finally found my girl, she’s from another world” but keeps it fun with lines like “can’t wait for my super cool ray gun”. It’s a song that you can feel being a live favourite, as Sean’s vocals soar. Listening to these through a good pair of headphones, you really feel the bass driving this song along. It has the potential to be an arena rocker for sure. ‘I Don’t Want to Know’ has a similar feel, starting out with a relatively lonesome harmonica and building into something epic, with a leg up from the double bass.
Songs like the plodding ‘Rest My Head’, a song Sean nearly pitched for a Jesse James biopic before deciding it was too good to give away, have big choruses and continue to show off what Sean can do behind the mic. ‘Last Goodbye’ is a sorrowful yet powerful song, where Sean continues to stretch his vocal cords.
The album closes out on another poignant and emotional number. ‘Wrong Side of Town’ takes a fond look back at being young and dreaming big, whether it was realistic or not. Sean sings “we made all kinds of promises, but fate don’t bend to no mans will”, over a solitary piano. It’s amazing how he still manages to bring the same emotional impact whether he’s got a huge band behind him or just sat at a piano. It’s a measure of the mans talent.
I fell in love with the music of Sean McConnell from his self-titled 2016 album and that love was only solidified with the stripped back ‘Undone’ version. With ‘Secondhand Smoke’ he’s gone and built on the sound of the last record, taking steps to expand his sound way beyond singer-songwriter into potential arena rocker. The true beauty of McConnell’s music, however is that any of these songs is built to work just as powerfully in a solo performance. The lyrics are so rich, his voice so powerful and tender, that you can’t help but fall in love with the music and the stories. Sean McConnell has gone and done it again. It’s about time country radio unplugged the click tracks and started listening.
- Secondhand Smoke
- Here We Go
- Shaky Bridges (featuring The McCrary Sisters)
- Everything that’s Good
- I Could Have Been An Angel
- The Devil’s Ball
- Rest My Head
- Greetings From Niagara Falls
- Another Song about A Broken Heart
- I Don’t Want To Know
- Say Goodbye
- Wrong Side of Town
Here We Go, Shaky Bridges, Alien, Rest My Head
Six Shooter Rating
10 out of 10