When he recorded The American in 1998, singer-songwriter Martin Sexton took a road trip through human emotion and gave voice (and in some cases, dialects) to characters he found along the way — in three octaves. The American was Sexton’s major-label debut. It was a surprise performance that came out of left field and jacked the singer’s status to something approaching stardom. Remarkable, really, for a graduate of a lackluster Boston folk scene.
Now comes Sugarcoating, an everyman collection of songs that finds Sexton mired in the same crap as the rest of us. “Had enough of the stuff they been feeding me,” sings the mid-40s converted folkster, “on the daily nightly news/ and I’d climb the Statue of Liberty/ just to get a better view.” In 13 tracks, Sexton comments on the war, love and fidelity, lost friendship, and our callow drive for material gain. At times he plays it off like a man in a 12-step program who must make amends. “My heart is a thundercloud,” he sings, “and the rain wants out, wants out, it wants out.”
Martin Sexton has an uncommon voice that does more work than any one man’s voice should be able to do. It is a convincing baritone and the upper reaches of his tenor are sweet, but the midrange is where he delivers the goods and conjures emotions. Overripe but never smarmy in the way of boy pop, Sexton maintains a soul-singer approach to music from within the frame of a singer-songwriter. Sugarcoating might at first seem a back-door attempt at self-pity, but at the end of a day Sexton still believes in something. “Aim for the stands/ Sneak under the bleachers,” he offers as advice to his infant son. “Raise up your hand/ Question your teachers.”
- Thursday, May 6, 2010, 8 p.m.
Belly Up Tavern,
143 S. Cedros Avenue,