Aspen Times Weekly: Success, Martin Sexton-style
IF YOU GO ...
Who: Martin Sexton
When: Tuesday, Feb. 2
Where: Belly Up Aspen
Cost: $24 advance; $26 day of
Any list of the hardest working musicians should include the name Martin Sexton. He’s released 10 full-length studio albums over a 20-year career, and has maintained a relentless touring schedule that commonly finds him on the road for a year or more with the touring cycle for each release.
The touring cycle so far in support of his latest album, “Mixtape of the Open Road,” fits the pattern. He spent spring 2015 hitting 50 cities from coast to coast and followed up that run with a 35-show fall tour. Now he’s back for some 30 shows booked so far into May. And when he steps on stage for his show Feb. 2 at the Belly Up Aspen, he won’t
“You can do anything for 20 years. You could be a taste tester at Ben & Jerry’s and that can get old after 20 years,” Sexton remarked during a recent phone interview. “But by the grace of God, I love the work. I love finishing an album and getting on the horse and starting the (touring) cycle like we are right now, doing the interviews, meeting people, throwing the shows, signing the records. I love all that. And I love the performance the most of all.”
Sexton even likes the traveling that comes with being a touring musician — an aspect of the job that countless artists find tedious and downright wearing.
“What a wonderful thing to see Europe and North America and Australia, to see it and experience it, and to take in the people and the food,” he said. “To me, every day is like its own little gem that I get to unwrap every day and share with people.”
Audiences have obviously responded to what Sexton, who first made his name on the vibrant Boston folk music scene, brings to the table. In a career that started with his 1992 debut release, “In The Journey,” (he sold some 20,000 copies of that album while busking and at shows), went on to include a pair of major label releases for Atlantic Records (“The American” in 1998 and “Wonder Bar” in 2000), and since then has featured six more albums on his own Kitchen Table Records label, Sexton has never had a radio hit. Nevertheless, he now headlines theaters and large clubs nationwide largely because of word-of-mouth raves for his music and for his engaging live performances that draw fans year after year.
“I’ll be playing songs off of ‘Mixtape’ and all of the other tunes that I ever play,” he said. “I’ve been doing them long enough where I have a nice variety to choose (from). It allows me to not play the same show every night. On the first record, you kind of just play the same dozen songs over and over every night. So it’s nice. And I’ve picked up a few covers along the way. It just makes for a nice couple of hours of fun for me.”
As its title suggests, the latest album was inspired musically in part by mixtapes — those collections of songs friends put together for each other on cassettes (back in the old days) and more recently on CDs or digitally. Sexton followed the lead of the diversity of mixtapes he has received.
“My records have always been very rangy,” he said. “I’ve always taken a tip from (the Beatles’) ‘Abbey Road’ and ‘The White Album,’ to range from ‘Blackbird’ to ‘Helter Skelter’ on the same album. I’ve always dug that. I’ve loved the whole journey of an album, where it ranges from this quiet thing to a big thing. So on this record, I just stepped on the gas and headed in that direction and made it even more so of a mixtape.”
The excellent album indeed covers lots of stylistic ground. There is the shuffling retro-country of “Do It Daily,” acoustic folk in “Set In Stone,” a bit of rootsy jazz on “Doin’ Something Right,” bluesy soul on “Give It Up,” Grateful Dead-ish rock on “Shut Up And Sing” and rowdy, fuzzed-up rock on “Remember
Lyrically, “Mixtape of the Open Road” is more light-hearted than Sexton’s previous two releases. The 2010 album “Sugarcoating” and his 2012 EP, “Fall Like Rain,” both leaned toward topical subject matter, as Sexton shared his frustrations with issues like divisions within politics and the American population, the growing gulf between the rich and working class and the ongoing war
“Mixtape,” though, has more of a sweet, and at times nostalgic or humorous, tone. Sexton, though, stressed that there’s still social awareness built into some of the
“There’s a track called ‘Shut Up and Sing.’ To listen to it, you wouldn’t know really that it’s got any sort of unlit subject matter,” Sexton said. “But that’s all about, I remember the Dixie Chicks, they spoke out against the government and they caught all kinds of heat for it. Someone said ‘Shut up and sing’ to them, you know, like just close your mouth and sing the tunes and entertain us, like you’re supposed to. So that track is sort of about that…This is all about don’t spin your wheels talking about it. Put it in a song so that millions of people will hear it and maybe it will inspire them to take action.”
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.