Martin Sexton’s emotional mode
ASPEN Martin Sexton is a man of many modes. The singer, songwriter and guitarist has appeared several times in Aspen recently as a solo act; on Saturday night at Belly Up, he was backed by a three-piece band. The band was largely in electric mode – organ and keyboards, bass guitar and drums – but one segment of the show had the foursome pulling together in a corner of the stage for an old-style, one-microphone acoustic set: upright bass, one drum, melodica, and Sexton on acoustic guitar. Sexton also played a few songs alone with his guitar. His style combines soul and folk elements.But Sexton’s primary mode, the one that makes him a standout live performer, is an emotional one. From all appearances, Sexton – who looks like a miniature Jack Black – is one happy guy, with a winning smile that comes more from the internal pleasure of making music than from trying to entertain an audience. Early in the set, he talked about the first day of summer having always been his favorite day of the year. That brief chat led into “Happy,” a song from his new album, “Seeds,” that centers around summer’s beginning and the feeling it engenders. Later on, he reflected on Billy Preston’s funk classic, “Will It Go Round in Circles”: “I was remembering how much I loved that song as a kid. So I did a cover of it for my record,” said Sexton. And then he performed it onstage.
For years, various people have commented on Sexton’s appeal as a live performer. Those opinions made me go back again and again to his 1998 album, “The American.” Pleasant stuff, but hardly revelatory; “Seeds,” released earlier this year, was more promising. But Sexton’s charisma, and a voice that has magnificent range, require the live venue. Saturday night at Belly Up, it became apparent that Sexton’s reputation is reasonably widespread; a good percentage of the audience seemed to know every word to every song.
The fans got a particular treat with the acoustic set. This showed not just an altered sound, but a different style altogether, a move back into country-swing that culminated with a singalong take on Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Few singers could make the songs’ notorious line – “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” – sound less threatening, and more uplifting.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail is email@example.com
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