Martin Sexton more than made up for a somewhat lackluster Saturday night at the Americana Music Association’s Annual conference. Mightily armed with a guitar and his spectacular vocals, Sexton delivered a set of 99% his own mixed-bag songs, encompassing folk, gospel, funk and jazz, though he started out with an innovative cover of a particularly old standard, “America the Beautiful,” reinterpreted, and made his very own.
Sexton belongs in the category of artists who aren’t easily categorized, and may suffer recognition issues as a result. Just when you think he’s on a jazz tear, he flips back to his gospel and soul roots, then throws us a curve, tossing in vocal percussion (both beats and instruments, e.g., a trumpet) along with the guitar-tapping percussion he regularly employs. At one point, for example, his guitar pickup went out entirely, and if he hadn’t made up a lyric about it on the spot to get the tech onstage to fix it, I’m pretty sure most of the audience would have assumed it was simply another a capella moment in the show.
Playing tunes from his latest album, Mixtape of the Open Road, Sexton dedicated not only the album itself, but a couple of other tunes to his mother, who, he said, raised 12 children and taught him values which not only guide his path but inform his songs both old and new. “There I Go,” a funky gratitude song, owes no small debt to gospel music as well as to his mom. If you want to improve your mood, check out “Happy;” I think you’ll find the Martin Sexton vibe is catching.