Martin Sexton: Sugarcoating

RIYL: Bruce Springsteen, The Jayhawks, Joe Henry

Martin Sexton has a small army of devoted fans who spend a lot of time wondering why Martin Sexton isn’t world-famous – which isn’t unusual when it comes to musicians who aren’t world famous, but Sexton’s fans have more of a point than most. He has a sharp songwriter’s eye, he’s a gifted instrumentalist, and he has one of the supplest, most versatile voices in rock ‘n’ roll – seriously, why isn’t this guy world-famous?

Whatever the reasons for Sexton’s continued obscurity, we can at least be glad he hasn’t let it stop him from building one of the more compelling discographies you’ve probably never heard – and his latest release, Sugarcoating, stands shoulder-to-shoulder with his finest work.

More straightforward than 2007’s Seeds, which found Sexton using a one-man band approach to serve up everything from Tuvan singing to a cover of “Will It Go ‘Round in Circles,” Sugarcoating finds Sexton hewing closer to the confessional singer/songwriter end of the spectrum, addressing topics like love, politics, and fatherhood. The arrangements are a little looser and more expansive, thanks to the involvement of a group of musicians that included guitarist Duke Levine, keyboard player Tom West, and Sexton’s sister Colleen, as well as Sexton’s decision to record without rehearsals and keep production to a bare minimum. It’s a warm blanket of an album, one that makes room to display Sexton’s prodigious vocal talent while also delivering some of his strongest material – perhaps most notably the title track, which hurls vicious barbs at the so-called “mainstream media” against a jaunty, country-flavored backdrop that sounds more like Buck Owens than Rage Against the Machine.

If you’re already a fan, Sugarcoating will give you 13 more reasons to love Sexton’s music. If you haven’t yet been inducted to the cult, it’s as good a place as any to start. What’s stopping you? (Kitchen Table 2010)

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