Martin Sexton | 4.28.07

In person, the Irish-Catholic Sexton—short, stocky, curly haired and slightly disheveled—hardly looks capable of producing the incredible, powerful vocal range that he does.

 

The Pageant, St. Louis

An evening with Martin Sexton, the Syracuse, N.Y.-bred singer/songwriter, playing to an intimate crowd of about 1,000 at The Pageant (closed balcony), was a sheer delight—a journey of diverse musical styles from rock, blues and gospel to country, folk bluegrass and everything in between.

Sexton built his following in Boston, singing on the streets of Harvard Square and gradually working his way into the club scene. He released his first studio recording, the fan favorite Black Sheep in 1996. Happily and fiercely independent, Sexton launched his own label, Kitchen Table Records, in 2002 with his first live double-CD set, Live Wide Open, mixed by John Alagia (Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer).

In person, the Irish-Catholic Sexton—short, stocky, curly haired and slightly disheveled—hardly looks capable of producing the incredible, powerful vocal range that he does. The soulful, deep tone of his voice brings to mind a younger version of another blue-eyed-soul-man, Van Morrison; then he moves quickly from his sultry baritone to a soaring falsetto reminiscent of Aaron Neville and Al Green.

Sexton (guitar/vocals) performed two very eclectic sets at The Pageant with his live ensemble featuring Cyrus Madan on keyboards and Hammond B-3 organ, Rich Zurkowski on bass, and Sturgis Cunningham on drums.

Sexton displayed his warm and likeable personality during the show, bantering w/ the audience (calling them his "brothers and sisters") and interjecting messages of peace, love, hope and joy—like a gospel preacher—complete with "Amens" and "Halelujahs." His spirit is infectious, particularly when followed by the amazing sound of his voice rising in song—as if it were truly an instrument of God.

In between the more "spiritual" moments, Sexton also exhibits a great sense of humor and genuine delight in entertaining the crowd and revving them up. He doesn't want his audience to simply sit and listen, he wants to engage them, draw them in, get them clapping, dancing and singing along.

The first set included a completely acoustic "mini-set" including stand-up bass and Sexton on harmonica, and even highlighted Sexton's yodeling skills. In this formation, Sexton also channeled Johnny Cash for a dead-on cover of the classic "Folsom Prison Blues," to the utter delight of the crowd.

Other tributes included a jammin' version of "Will it Go Round' in Circles" by the late Billy Preston, a hero of Sexton's, as well as a groovy tease of the Doors' "L.A. Woman," highlighting Madan's skills on the B-3.

Sexton's easygoing sense of humor was evident in his performance of songs such as the tribute "Failure" from his new studio album, Seeds, in which he thanks his failure at a number of other things for leading him to his life in music; and the fun, sexy "Animal Song," about an old flame who paid more attention to her pets than him.

Not to be all lighthearted, Sexton performed some of his more contemplative and serious lyrical numbers such as "Women and Wine," and the autobiographical, sing-along anthem "Black Sheep," a fan favorite, which provided a strong close to the second set.

As an encore, the patriotic Sexton did a goose-bumps-inciting rendition of "America the Beautiful."

Leaving The Pageant, I feel as if I've been on a real American musical journey, traveling from the Adirondacks of Sexton's upstate New York home, to the streets of working-class Boston, to a southern tent revival, to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. It was a fun and worthwhile trip; thanks, Martin, for sharing a little of your good-natured soul with the city of blues. | Amy Burger

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