This weekend was my approximately annual fix for my all-time favorite live musician to roll through town: Martin Sexton. He played Variety Playhouse Friday night with the Ryan Montbleau Band opening, and he was in rare form. I should probably start with some background on my Marty history so everyone understands where I'm coming from. I've seen him at least 20 times over the last 8 years, and in locations ranging from Eddie's Attic to Ann Arbor, MI to Buffalo, NY to Asheville, NC. He's my Phish, my Grateful Dead – if he wasn't playing close, I'd travel at the drop-of-a-hat. And if he was playing close, I still might jump in the car and head somewhere for a weekend. Fortunately, my wife of almost five years has joined in the Marty worship – so much so we road-tripped to Asheville for her birthday weekend one year to catch him at the Orange Peel (BTW, I fully endorse joining the Peel's email list as they draw great acts, and Asheville's such a great weekend destination).
So let's try to describe Martin Sexton's music. When I'm evangelizing him (as I often do), my description is kind of cruel and has an Atlanta angle: "think of a sound kinda like Shawn Mullins, only with real talent." Sort of unfair to Shawn, but it gives Atlanta folks a frame of reference. There are also deep inspirations from Stevie Wonder, gospel music, acoustic street singers and even a bit of yodeling. I know, it sounds crazy eclectic but take a listen and I'd virtually guarantee you'll fall in love with his sound. (No money back guarantees offered.)
Marty's label Kitchen Table Records has just released his sixth pure studio album titled "Sugarcoating". I have to caveat with 'pure studio album' because his trademark is live solo music, so he's released 4-5 of that type of CD over the years as well... As is Marty's tendency, the entire CD was recorded in seven days, and the majority of it was recorded live. His latest CD fits nicely into the catalog in that it's full of songs that sound great with a full backing band, but also have enough meat to let him explore solo renditions for the next 3-4 years. See the video below for one of my personal favorites, Boom Sh-Boom. In fact, he pulled out a brand new arrangement of one of my favorite songs in the catalog: My Faith Is Gone. The arrangement has morphed from pure acoustic singer-songwriter to a reggae-inspired full band gig – and the new was even better than the old! The CD is offered in both a standard and deluxe versions – with the deluxe containing four live Marty classics: Beast in Me, There Go I, Diner and Glory Bound; and an acoustic version of the album's title track Sugarcoating. It's well worth the extra couple bucks on iTunes or Amazon MP3.
One of the coolest things about Marty is he's always supported fan recordings of shows, and the sharing of those recordings. When I first heard him live in 2002 at Eddie's Attic in Decatur, I was an instant fan and needed to consume as much of his music as possible. I found 20-30 of his live shows on the web in full lossless audio and downloaded everything I could. (And in support of his view of music rights, I immediately bought all studio albums via iTunes and have continued to buy everything he puts out on pure principle.) I remember seeing guys all over the country showing up with super-trick digital recording equipment and wide-spread stereo mics. In fact, if you want to get started with his older catalog, make sure to check out his live recordings at Internet Archive. You can also follow his video blog on YouTube.
I'd also give big props to the Ryan Montbleau Band, who both open the show and also step-in as Marty's backing band. Their first two songs hit me with a deep similarity to one of my other favorite alt-country artists: Ryan Adams (particularly during his most recent group effort with the Cardinals). Just about the time I had them pegged, they went blues and funk and the bass player pulled out the standup. A great group to watch – kind of in the vein of Barenaked Ladies.
So take a listen, and let me know what you think!