Martin Sexton

Live Wide Open

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Martin Sexton's first live CD is appropriately titled Live Wide Open, but it might just as well be called "Sexton Unbound." Though the singer/songwriter gives dynamic performances on all of his albums, this freewheeling, powerhouse two-disc live set makes the studio records seem straightjacketed by comparison. Sexton is playful, rambunctious, and endlessly creative on every minute of this album. Most of these songs have, of course, appeared on his studio efforts (all four of which are well represented here), but there isn't a track on Live Wide Open that doesn't seem substantially different from prior versions. The folky "Gypsy Woman" becomes a 16-minute Middle Eastern-flavored funk-rock jam. "Hallelujah," a snappy '70s soul-pop tune from Wonder Bar, is played here with such gravity and sincerity that it almost sounds more like Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" than Martin Sexton's. "Black Sheep" begins as a soft, torchlit ballad before winding into a Sunday-go-to-meetin' gospel rendition of "This Little Light of Mine." With the exception of a swaggering blues cover of John Brim's "Ice Cream Man" that features Nils Lofgren on guitar, Sexton does all of his genre-hopping with only drummer, Joe Bonadio, to back him up. Instead, he slides a thumb up and down his guitar's low E string to create a surprisingly convincing bass sound and wails into a distorted microphone to simulate screaming electric guitar solos. It is a remarkable tour de force performance that plays to all of Sexton's strengths -- his buoyant energy, expansive vocals, and eclectic musicianship -- while rendering his weaknesses -- the relative superficiality of some of his songwriting -- virtually irrelevant.

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