On his most recent album, Wonder Bar
, Martin Sexton does just about everything he can to subvert the musical tag "singer/songwriter." Hardly a shy, retiring folkie, Sexton creates a variety of musical settings on the disc, which he produced himself. "Angeline," for example, has a rollicking soul vibe, sort of like a great Van Morrison track from the '70s. "Casino Foundation," a song that makes plain the ravages of gambling addiction, is a funk tune you won't be hearing on the sound systems of our local "gaming" establishments. And the slow, dreamy "Where Did I Go Wrong" shows off Sexton's supple, rangy voice, which, in its upper register, sounds a lot like Jeff Buckley's.Some of the songs, such as "Faith on the Table," "Hallelujah" and "Elephant's Memory" deal with what, under the current administration, we'd call Sexton's "faith-based" upbringing in a working-class Irish Catholic family. Overall, Wonder Bar
-- on which Sexton is backed by a crack outfit featuring bassist Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel), keyboardist David Sancious (Bruce Springsteen, Sting) and his longtime drummer, Joe Bonadio -- is a fine and somewhat overlooked release that kind of sneaked out at the tail end of last year.
Sexton still is anything but a household name, but it's not for a lack of trying. The Syracuse native, who cut his musical teeth on the Boston scene, released his first album, Black Sheep, in 1996. His major-label debut came with The American in 1998. Both releases were critically acclaimed, if hardly commercial smashes. Sexton seems determined to win fans over if he has to do it one at a time, however, and his last tour found him logging an astounding total of 80,000 miles. It's unlikely that you can trade frequent-flyer miles for studio time, but the wide range of experience and wisdom he's gleaned from his travels is plainly audible in his remarkable, heartfelt work.