Martin Sexton has an incredible voice. It is powerful, and often beautiful. And it is unique. I've never heard anyone else who sounds quite like him. Ever since the early 1990s when I first heard Martin sing "The Way I Am," I've been impressed with his voice, and with his stage presence, and with his song structure. And because of that, I always have high expectations when he puts out a new CD. He hasn't let me down yet.
His newest release, Fall Like Rain, is five-song EP. Of the five songs, four are originals, and one is a perfectly timely cover. And two of these songs, "Fall Like Rain" and "Burlington," are among the best songs Martin has ever recorded. Martin said he released this as an EP because these songs are relevant today, and he didn't want to wait to release a full-length album. These songs really do get right to the heart of what folks are experiencing and feeling now.
"Fall Like Rain"
This EP opens with its title track, "Fall Like Rain." This is an uplifting song (without being the least bit sappy or facile), expressing desires that we all feel as we search for answers. It begins, "How do I know what I really need/Do I find it in church or watch it on TV/How far will I go just to feel alive/What crazy stunts will I pull just to see the other side." Martin Sexton has a way of plugging right into how his listeners are feeling, what they're experiencing. The message can be heard in lines like "You can't know the heat 'til you've been frozen cold/Can't feel young unless you've been growing old/How can you know love until you got a broken heart/You can't get anywhere until you make a start."
"Fall Like Rain" was written by Martin Sexton and Crit Harmon (who plays 12 string on this track). Duke Levine plays lap steel (there was a law passed in the late 1980s that any folk album had to feature Duke Levine on at least one track, and that's a law I fully support).
"One Voice Together"
Yes, "One Voice Together" is one of those songs about getting along, about thinking about what we all have in common, rather than focusing on our differences. There are a lot of songs like that. But this one is by Martin Sexton, so it's an earnest and good song. Martin sings, "Well, one voice can make a whole lot of noise/One voice singing out/But a full-blown choir can take the whole thing higher."
Martin's message doesn't come from some lofty position. There is a human honesty in lines like, "Sometimes I do not love my neighbor/Sometimes I feel like throwing stones/I'm sure that he'd return the favor/And we'd be left with broken bones."
What is it about these days that makes us feel we're at a crossroads, on the verge of something? This song clearly taps into that feeling. And also that we have something to say about where we're going, that we do have a voice. This song also feels like it's about moving beyond politics and countries to see citizens as people, which is wonderful. And I love this line: "There's no money to be made in forgiveness."
"One Voice Together" was written by Martin Sexton and Dan Mackenzie.
"Happy Anniversary (Six Years)"
"Happy Anniversary (Six Years)" is exactly what you'd expect from its title - it's a love letter to a longterm partner. And sure, six years might not seem like a long time to some folks, but it's the equivalent of a dozen Hollywood marriages. This couple goes through changes together rather than changing partners - what a wonderful idea. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "Six years flipping the pancakes/Forgiving my huge mistakes/Six years in the blink of a baby's eyes" (and I really dig what Martin does vocally on those lines). The song's scope gets wider toward the end during that great build. And I love those surprising backing vocals near the end.
"Happy Anniversary (Six Years)" was written by Martin Sexton and Dan Mackenzie. Duke Levine plays mandocello on this track.
My favorite track on this CD is "Burlington." I would put this among the best songs Martin Sexton ever wrote. There is something so beautiful and even comforting about this song. Martin's is a friendly voice. It's a song that makes you feel a part of humanity, and that with all our troubles and with all the nonsense, we've still got a pretty good thing going here. I'm not quite sure how this song accomplishes that, because lyrically the song doesn't express these things explicitly. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "There's angels in the snow/And smoke curls from a chimney/There's whales along this road/They're diving deep/The barns are caving in/Their old red paint is fading/They lean into the wind." These lyrics aren't really happy, and yet they still make me feel hopeful. "She was never meant for me/We held on as long as we could hold/Time comes a fighter has to flee/Ahead there lies a long and open road."
"Burlington" was written by Martin Sexton and Dan Mackenzie.
"For What It's Worth"
Marty has always put his own cool spin on the songs he's chosen to cover (I always think of his version of "Purple Rain," which completely redefined the song for many people) and "For What It's Worth" is no exception. Originally released by Buffalo Springfield in 1967, this song is obviously quite timely (again). Martin performs solo on this track - just vocals and guitar.
"For What It's Worth" was written by Stephen Stills.
CD Track List
- Fall Like Rain
- One Voice Together
- Happy Anniversary (Six Years)
- For What It's Worth
Musicians appearing on this album include Martin Sexton on vocals, guitar, melodian bass and tambourine; Crit Harmon on 12 string; Duke Levine on lap steel and mandocello; Dan Mackenzie on guitar, bass, organ, saxophone and drums; Marty Ballou on bass; Dave Mattacks on drums; and Chris Ryan on drums.
Fall Like Rain was released on January 24, 2012 on Kitchen Table Records, a label Martin launched a decade ago. And by the way, the packaging is made of 100% recycled materials. Previous releases by Martin Sexton include 2010's Sugarcoating, Black Sheep (1996), The American (1998), Wonder Bar (2000) and Seeds (2007).
Martin Sexton is on tour now, and if you have the opportunity to see him, he is definitely worth checking out.