Growing up in Syracuse, NY in the ‘70s Martin Sexton’s musical tastes were shaped by listening to AM radio where he heard the likes of Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder alongside The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Sexton is blessed with a voice that most singers dream of and his music echoes that AM radio vibe, blurring the lines between folk, rock, soul, and blues. Named after the diner in Worcester, MA where Sexton wrote much of the CD, Wonderbar is full of spark and joy, drawing equally from classic soul singers such as Al Green and the blue-collar grit of early Springsteen.
Right off the bat Sexton kicks up his heels and flexes his vocal muscles on the opening track “Angeline”. Its groove is infectious and Sexton is clearly having fun as his voice soars, dips, and growls. As is Sexton’s style, he immediately shifts gears on the next song, “Real Man”, a slow soul-burner with a laid-back groove. Sexton’s songs often haunt the crossroads where spiritual and secular music meets. On songs such as “Hallelujah”, “Faith on the Table”, and “She Cries and Sings” Sexton explores issues of faith and contradictions in the real world. Throughout the CD, Sexton switches gears effortlessly from spirited gospel-tent-revivalist to introspective singer-songwriter to growling soul man.
Sexton is helped out on Wonderbar by veteran musicians including Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel) on bass, keyboardist David Sancious (Santana), and Sexton’s longtime drummer Joe Bonadio. For those who have seen Sexton perform live, there is one drawback to Wonderbar in that, even for all its peaks and crescendos, it doesn’t live up to the ecstasy of his live performances. Wonderbar captures that energy better than its slick predecessor, The American (Atlantic Records), which is probably due to the fact that Sexton produced Wonderbar himself. Fans of Jeff Buckley, David Gray, and Jackson Browne will dig Wonderbar. For those who are already fans of this talented singer-songwriter, let’s hope a live CD is on its way soon.