Sean McConnell is a veteran songwriter, but his self-named debut is as fresh as any of the chart-topping country-pop acts for whom he's written. McConnell comes out of the writer's room, where he penned tracks for Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley and even Christina Aguilera, to present a personal project that attracts even non-country fans, although some of his expertise stymies what could be a more candid collection.
For example, "Holy Days" opens the collection as a "Carpool Karaoke"-ready summer anthem that combines early-days Taylor Swift's picturesque romances with a maturity that can get even the most cynical listener dreaming of sunshine.
But the backup vocals are uncomfortably close to those in summer 2012's hit, "Home," by Phillip Phillips, and like much of songwriter-to-solo artist Sia's work, the song could have been successfully recorded by myriad hit-makers. It's a fun song, but its commercial viability gives listeners the wrong impression of the rest of the album, which is anything but cookie-cutter.
Some tracks are autobiographical, like "Queen of St. Mary's Choir" and "Beautiful Rose," which analyze McConnell's Massachusetts past and Nashville present. "One Acre of Land" paints him as an optimistic confessor: "I can't pull no car apart, but I can fix a broken heart, and we could build a dream right where we stand on one acre of land."
Others tell listeners' stories - "Running Under Water" is familiar to anyone craving change, and "Hey Mary" is a sweet, innocent tune about watching a love interest go through romantic turmoil. "The levy's going to blow before you know it, and I'm going to make you fall in love," he sings.
Judging from the strength of his debut, McConnell will fulfill that promise for the country-pop scene in no time at all.