Martin Sexton

Martin Sexton is one of the modern legends on the independent folk music circuit with loyal fans attuned to his every quip, and for good reason. Sexton is a powerhouse of sound. This is a singer-songwriter who doesn't neglect the singer side of the equation; he's got a voice that'll grab you by the soul and demand both your attention and your heart. And if you never thought a Boston folkie's pipes could give Al Green a run for his money, think again as his vocal style can only be described as truly soulful, combining the best qualities of singers like Van Morrison, Al Green, Aaron Neville, and Otis Redding.

A native of Syracuse, N.Y., and the tenth of 12 children, Martin Sexton grew up in the '80s. Uninterested in the music of the day, he fueled his dreams with the timeless sounds of classic rock 'n' roll. As he discovered the dusty old vinyl left in the basement by one his big brothers, his musical fire was lit. Sexton eventually migrated to Boston, where he began to build a following singing on the streets of Harvard Square, gradually working his way through the scene. His 1992 collection of self-produced demo recordings, In the Journey, was recorded on an old 8-track in a friend's attic. He managed to sell 20,000 copies out of his guitar case.

From 1996 to 2002 Sexton released Black Sheep, The American, Wonder Bar and Live Wide Open. The activity and worldwide touring behind these records laid the foundation for the career he enjoys today with an uncommonly loyal fan base; he sells out venues from New York's Nokia Theatre to L.A.'s House of Blues, and tours regularly across Canada and Europe.

Happily and fiercely independent, Martin Sexton launched his own label, KTR, in 2002. Since then he has infiltrated many musical worlds, performing at concerts ranging from pop (collaborating with John Mayer) to the Jam scene to classic rock (collaborating with Peter Frampton); from the Newport Folk Fest to Bonnaroo to New Orleans Jazz Fest to a performance at Carnegie Hall.

Regardless of his reputation as a musician's musician, Sexton can't keep Hollywood away. His songs can be heard in many feature films and television including NBC's Scrubs, Parenthood and Showtime's hit series Brotherhood.

Stage, film and television aside, when Sexton isn't touring he often mixes
entertainment with his sense of social responsibility, performing at benefits for Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang camp, the Children's Tumor Foundation, Japan earthquake/tsunami relief (The John Lennon Tribute), and Hurricane Irene relief efforts in Vermont, to name some.

In 2007 Sexton began his most successful years to date with the release of his studio offering Seeds. The album debuted at #6 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart, and the Los Angeles Times said, "Call him a soul shouter, a road poet, a folkie or a rocker and you wouldn't be wrong."

The live CD/DVD set Solo, which includes a DVD of his performance at Denver's Mile High Festival, followed in 2008.

In 2010 the album Sugarcoating found this one-of-a-kind-troubadour doing what he does best: locating larger truths. After hearing it, NBC anchor Brian Williams sought Martin out to sit down for an interview backstage at New York's Beacon Theatre. It's now featured on MSNBC's BriTunes.

The accolades continue. Billboard called Sexton's version of "Working Class Hero" for the Lennon tribute/benefit in 2010 "chill-inspiring." Released this November as part of The 30th Annual John Lennon Tribute album, the track is available on iTunes.

The New York Times noted that this artist "jumps beyond standard fare on the strength of his voice, a blue-eyed soul man's supple instrument," adding, "his unpretentious heartiness helps him focus on every soul singer's goal: to amplify the sound of the ordinary heart."

I remember when I was kid, being dumbfounded, paralyzed and terrified all at once, when the notion of infinity first dawned on me. I think that I was eleven years old and in the sixth grade at Enders Road Elementary School. It was then, that the expanse of the Universe and the endless stream of time first dwarfed my perception of my own reality and it was then, for the very first time that I felt afraid and alone.

This pre-pubescent, existential crisis was thankfully subverted by a fortunate discovery.

Music.

Sure, I had been listening to bands like Def Leppard, Quiet Riot and Kiss on expandable suitcase-record player since I was seven, which was all well and good. But, it was the sound of the Grateful Dead, emanating from my Sanyo boombox, as I laid in my bunk bed, that reconnected me to the world, humanity and I dare say, the universe. There was a language of truth that I had never heard before in Jerry Garcia’s fiery playing (circa the 1971, ‘Skull and Roses’ release), that intertwined in conversation, chorus and harmony with Bob Weir’s, glassy, rhythmic punctuations. The entire band was communicating with each other and it’s audience in way that I could barely comprehend. Suddenly, I was no longer alone.

Shortly thereafter, I flipped that 90 minute Maxell tape over and discovered a resonance of similar amplitude in the songs and voice of Cat Stevens. Of course, his music was of a completely different shade, but the connection was just as strong. It was clear to me, at that moment, in my eleven year old mind, that Cat had pondered the same questions and fears that I had in my early existentialism. Again I realized, I was not alone.

What followed between then and now, was probably not all that different than the experience that many American songwriters have had growing up. My uncle gave me a guitar, I became obsessed with the recordings of the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens and the like, and I began to figure out how to play some songs. Slowly (though not particularly surely) I would also begin to find my voice as a singer, a player and a writer. Eventually, I found my way to New York City, then on to Los Angeles and onto stages all across the land.

All of that stuff hardly seems as important though, as that discovery that I made when I was just a kid. It wasn’t necessarily The Dead, Jerry or Cat Stevens, specifically…it really could have been anyone, I think. Sam Cooke, Michael Jackson, Charlie Parker…Frank Sinatra. What I discovered, was the connective power of music. Every once in a while, throughout my life, I will forget and when I do, I suppose that I let my perception of the world around me fade in to black and white. Then, I will hear a voice, or a song…or find myself onstage with a particularly open and enthusiastic audience, or sharing a harmony with a friend…and BOOM! Everything explodes back into technicolor.

So – that is what I do. I seek that connection. I search for that sound. I suspect that the universe has some particular resonant frequencies and I believe that is truth that we are all looking for. Just as it exists in the physical world, I think that we can find that resonance in melody, harmony, rhythm and poetry. I was lucky enough to discover it very early on in my life – and so, I take that as a hint from the universe that I should encourage and enable others to make similar discoveries.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and here’s hoping you can find it too.

JN

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Martin Sexton with Jay Nash

Thursday, March 6 · Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM at Aladdin Theater