Like his hero Kris Kristofferson, Atlanta's Shawn Mullins served in the airborne division of the U.S. Armed Forces when he began writing songs. After an eight-year stint in the military, Mullins set out to pursue music full time. Not surprisingly, his songwriting style is closely aligned with the narrative country that Kristofferson and Townes Van Zandt established long ago. But Mullins isn't one of those roots rock geeks imitating his influences. Although his roots run deep in that soil, he's inspired by Celtic, gospel, '60s guitar pop and all kinds of folk music. Mullins released five albums on indie labels before seeing any kind of measurable success. All that changed when he released his first full-length for Sony/Columbia. The plantinum-selling Soul's Core was a fine balance of uplifting messages, spiky irreverence and fascinating story lines that garnered the craggy singer a whole new audience. He also is involved in an outfit called the Thorns, which includes power pop prodigy Matthew Sweet and singer-songwriter Pete Droge. Their sound is a bit more borrowed than Mullins' own material, but if you like delightfully derivative songs that sound like the Los Angelino canyon rock crooners of the late 1960s and early '70s (think Crosby, Stills & Nash or the Mamas and the Papas), definitely check out this band. And then listen to Mullins' 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor, which blends the slivers of harmonious soul found in the Thorns with his own narrative know-how, to create this love song to the fallen, but not broken, New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.