Back in the late ‘80s, when Martin Sexton was earning his keep working the sidewalks of Harvard Square with his guitar, he had to master the art of laying it all out there and grabbing the hearts and ears of passersby. A busker has a window of opportunity that’s just the length of how long it takes somebody to walk by you … and you either catch their attention or you don’t eat.
These days, Martin Sexton might not be worrying about tonight’s meal, but he still plays it like he means it. His latest release, Sugarcoating, is chock-full of Sexton’s honest, soulful, quirky, funky, real musicianship. Imagine it: a guy can be in his mid-40s, happily married, a father, intelligent – and not even skinny – and still be cool. Damn cool, as a matter of fact. Go, Martin, go.
The music on Sugarcoating spans the gamut from sing-along-ready Stevie Wonderish white-boy funk to the sneaky wallop of the title track. “Sugarcoating” sounds like Country Joe MacDonald meets The Sons of the Pioneers – a bouncy, happy cowboy tune on the surface with lyrics that take a deep, hard look at what’s going on around us (“From the Banks to the bankers/From the tanks to the tankers/It’s a war that knows no end”) and asks some hard questions.
“Boom Sh-Boom” gives Sexton a chance to get down and share the secret to marital bliss (boom sh-boom, of course), while “Shane” is Martin the dad’s thoughts for his infant son. The beauty of it is, you can be 50 and listen to this stuff (or 52, as some of us are) and say, “Damn, he nailed it” – or you can be 20 and just go with the groove for now. There are plenty of powerful, let-it-fly vocals (starting with the album-opening “Found”, pondering whether today’s technology really allows us to communicate well) as well as trademark Sexton scat-and-guitar duets along the way. Take a happy stroll down Abbey Road (“Stick Around”) in your bellbottoms, put on your Walrus outfit and be happy “Just To Be Alive”, or haul those old beat-to-shit cowboy boots on and put your arm around the one you love for the “Long Haul”. And when all else fails, dim the lights and lay a little mouth trumpet on your baby (“Easy On The Eyes”) – if that don’t set the mood, nothing will.
With Sugarcoating, Martin Sexton proves that Everyman need not be boring to anyone. And soul knows no boundaries.
You’d be hard-pressed to walk by this stuff on the sidewalk.