As rock & roll fantasies go, Shawn Mullins’ impossible-to-miss ”Lullaby” is definitely one helluva bedtime tale. The singer-songwriter had been playing coffeehouses and clubs across the country for nearly a decade, selling his self-produced CDs — roughly 5,000 a year — from the back of his camper van. Then last June, 99X, a radio station in Mullins’ hometown of Atlanta, started spinning ”Lullaby,” his half-spoken lost-soul-in-Hollywood saga with the hook-’em-in chorus (”Ev-er-y-thing’s gonna be all right, rockabye, rockabye”). Within a fortnight, 26 record labels had pitched woo. ”It’s such a good story that a lot of people didn’t think it was true,” acknowledges the 30-year-old former Army Airborne first lieutenant, lighting up a borrowed cigarette. ”You know, ‘Here’s this folksinger guy with this kinda hip-hop groove who looks like Gregg Allman and sounds like Lou Reed or Beck’ or whatever.”
Mullins quickly signed with Columbia Records (home of his idols Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen), and six weeks later the label rereleased his eighth album, Soul’s Core, a poignant set of troubadour-style character studies he’d originally produced for only $10,000. The singer had figured he’d just keep hawking Soul’s Core on SMG Records, the label he owns with his fiancée, Kelly Hobbs. But when the single took off, the majors were hard to resist. ”I was broke,” says Mullins, ”and couldn’t make enough records to keep up with all the requests.”
Now ”Lullaby” (buttressed by its accompanying MTV Buzzworthy video starring Lolita siren Dominique Swain) is in its sixth week at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Adult Top 40 chart, and Soul’s Core has spun gold. To top it off, the single’s been nominated for a Grammy.
”I was hoping to get enough Americana, rootsy airplay to move my record sales up to 20,000 a year,” says Mullins. ”We’re doing 30,000 a week right now. I can’t even fathom it.” Sounds like the stuff of sweet dreams to us.