Martin Sexton can make you hear old songs for the first time. On Solo he manages to fuse outrageous guitar playing with an unforgettable voice and humor and provides the premiere live set of the year.
It takes a lot of courage to pick away at a cover of the artist formerly known as “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince”, but Martin Sexton is fearless in his latest live release Solo . He wanders in and out of traditional blues riffs, falsetto howls, and a few choice covers reminding the listener that it takes heart to throw a guitar on your back and to put your future at risk. In Sexton’s case that risk has paid off.
After a few well received records on Atlantic, Sexton saw the music revolution writing on the walls and made a play for independence. Not all that surprising given his past of busking for dollars in order to record, or selling demos out of the back of a car. The gamble has paid off as Sexton’s tour schedule has remained popular and the set captured on Solo is a strong statement as to why. Opening with “How Far I’ve Come”, Sexton sounds like he would be comfortable right alongside Django Reinhardt. The easy plucking and fluid delivery is a sound from another time. “Happy” brings to mind a Jack Johnson song, the sort of song that fits right in with the bluesy singer-songwriter explosion of the early new century that gave us Sexton and others. “Diner” delivers on the sweet and lowdown sound again. Given Sexton’s history of starting out playing for dollars in Harvard Square, it is easy to envision Sexton singing “So Long Suzanna”, his breath visible from the cold in the air on a Fall Cambridge day. Therein lies the appeal of Sexton. He is a world class guitarist and songwriter who can make you feel like he is playing the train stop you wait at to go to work.
Sexton is not without an appreciation for his influences, either. He does an inspired version of “With a Little Help from My Friends” that manages to avoid comparisons to Joe Cocker’s definitive take and finishes with strong audience participation. His take on “Purple Rain” is genuine and inspired. Once again, Sexton has the ability to make you feel as though you are in the crowd, wondering at his guitar work. He brings something very new to one of the most recognizable love songs of the late '80s. It is impossible to mistake Sexton’s take as parody as he delivers such sincerity vocally.
Solo is a reminder to go see live music. Martin Sexton has created a lengthy and impressive seventeen-song testament to the wonder of seeing an immense talent with great songs to work with. You may not be able to see Sexton playing on a street corner anymore but he works tirelessly to make you feel like you can.