It’s not too often that an artist with over 15 years of releasing music comes out with a self-titled album after nine albums and EPs, but that’s exactly what Sean McConnell has done. This new album is appropriately self-titled because the songs are about Sean McConnell. “It’s a real storyteller record, and it’s pretty autobiographical. I’m learning how to be more honest and understated in my writing, and I wanted to match that sonically and vocally. When I look at this collection of songs, I see a lot of nostalgia, and looking back on sacred moments,” he says. The ten songs touch on a variety of personal aspects in life from having kids, to reflecting back on the early days of marriage.
Sean McConnell begins with the pop/rock anthem “Holy Days.” McConnell’s never really been straightforward country, but his music and style fits with Americana nicely. “Holy Days” recalls the times of the band starting to gain some traction and meeting a woman along the way who steals your heart, if only for a short while. The catchy chorus, passionate vocals, and pounding drums set the mood for an upbeat, fun-loving album. On “Ghost Town,” McConnell revisits his old hometown and reflects back on the good times he and his friends had while growing up. As he walks around, he realizes this place isn’t the same place he once knew because the people are strangers and places have changed.
“Bottom of the Sea” is a re-release from McConnell’s recent B-sides EP. Instead of treading water and taking the easy road, McConnell sings “I’m going down to the bottom of the sea until I’ve found the deepest part of me. And if I drown, at least I know that I died free.” There’s a quiet banjo in the song mix, but this song falls under the same sort upbeat, pop/rock umbrella which grounds this whole album. “Beautiful Rose” has more country instrumentation with the mandolin and simple acoustic guitars. The song deals with how life’s unexpected turn of events can be a blessing, even if it’s something that you never planned. The second verse suggests that the song could be influenced by the birth of child, which makes the song’s hook much more impactful. “Hey Mary” is a quick number about falling in love with a girl. With a sense of maturity, McConnell sings about letting her stay the night in his room while he camps out on the floor, and makes her breakfast after she wakes up.
The theme of love continues with “Best We’ve Ever Been.” The song celebrates the anniversary of a husband and wife, who look back through old photographs of their time together thus far, and go out to relive their youthful spirit for a night. The song’s production fits with the happy, celebratory nature of the lyrics. The highlight of the album is the autobiographical “Queen of Saint Mary’s Choir.” The song touches on Sean McConnell’s musical past: parents who sang and played guitar, and a journey from Atlanta to Nashville chasing musical dreams. He sings of the parts of his parents he sees in himself to begin the catchy chorus, and keeps himself grounded in reality while pursuing his music.
Sean McConnell has never shied away from religious themes in his music, and “Running Under Water” is no different. He compares trying to overcome his struggles, externally and internally, with running under water – the feeling of drowning while working hard and going nowhere fast. “One Acre of Land” is a tender love song about wanting to build a beautiful life with the one you love, even if everything isn’t perfect. He may not make a lot of money or do physical labor well, but those qualities shouldn’t matter when you both love each other, have the essentials. The acoustic production allows the personal plea of the lyrics to breathe and come up front. Sean McConnell ends the album with “Babylon,” using the symbol of the ancient city as a metaphor for a crumbling relationship. The song builds as it progresses from the verses through the chorus and bridge, and hits the emotional peak with the last couple of lines. “Do you ever stop and think about me? Tell me how you even breathe without me? I don’t know how to go on without you.” It’s a great end to the album and shows off McConnell’s strength as a writer.
Sean McConnell’s self-titled album is excellent. He does a great job with composing catchy songs without sacrificing quality in the lyrics; he tells compelling stories and delivers them in an equally compelling way. This is the kind of musical quality you expect from a seasoned artist like McConnell. At ten songs, the album leaves you yearning for just a bit more, but the plus side of the short track list means one is hard pressed to find filler songs on the album. For years, McConnell has been a background player in music, writing songs for others like Wade Bowen, Randy Rogers Band, or David Nail. With that said, this is the kind of album that could capture a larger audience, and bring McConnell’s name into bigger, and well-deserved spotlight.