Music News

Martin Sexton

Here's how ballsy Martin Sexton is: His traditional concert encore is "Purple Rain." That's right. Prince's "Purple Rain," a song that requires entry into the blessed soprano realms where white men fear to go. His voice is surely the most remarkable instrument in rock today.

Sexton's sound -- as evidenced on his brilliant major-label debut, 1998's The American -- is a joyous blend of twangy guitar licks, reeling organ, thumping percussion, and that voice. It's like Ray Charles jamming with the Band. Are you ready for roots soul? I sure as hell am.

Wonder Bar is a splendid record: not as consistently stunning as his last platter but infused with the same unbridled love of rhythm and melody. "Angeline" is pure ear candy, from the rollicking piano riffs to the syncopated handclaps to Sexton's exuberant falsetto, which capers over the song with mesmerizing grace. His songs are grounded in gospel, as his lush arrangements full of Wurlitzers, toy pianos, and wailing backup vocals will testify. Songs like "Faith on the Table" and "Hallelujah" are full of the spirit of the Lord -- at least the ass-shaking and exhortation -- without that nasty moralizing aftertaste. The true miracle of this disc is "FreeWorld," which begins as a moody ballad before steadily building into a masterpiece of sizzling funk.

Sexton's ballads are less inspiring, tending in the direction of schmaltz. (See the overtly weepy "Where Did I Go Wrong With You.") Then again Sexton does everything to the extreme. When he's up, he's up. And when he's down, well, you have to expect some sentimental excess.

Still, you're not going to find a record this year that guarantees as much pure pleasure as Wonder Bar. This is naked-dancing music, folks. Don't be shy.

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Steve Almond
Contact: Steve Almond