Given that Martin Sexton waited seven years after his album Wonder Bar to release Seeds, the fact that a mere three years passed between that disc and Sexton's next studio set, Sugarcoating, suggests something resembling urgency about getting these songs out to his fans. And if in many ways Sugarcoating follows a stylistic path that Sexton has pursued in the past, the title cut is certainly a surprise, a jazzy shuffle leavened with slide guitar and silky harmonies whose lyrics offer a pointed critique of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how they were sold to the public, a blending of sweet and sour that recalls Phil Ochs' "A Small Circle of Friends." "Sugarcoating" is the most impressive track on the album, and on the majority of this set Sexton stays in the same soulful acoustic groove that's become his trademark, but this music falls on the side of creative consistency rather than routine. "Wants Out" describes the painful end of a relationship, but the following number, "Friends Again," finds a broken-up couple trying to make sense of the aftermath, and the juxtaposition brings out a potent undercurrent in both songs. The strong piano chords and harmonies that surround "Always Got Away" suggest a gospel influence that adds to the song's emotional power, and the spare but flavorful jazz guitar accompaniment that builds to a dynamic finish makes "Just to Be Alive" an ideal conclusion to the disc. And if the other songs are mostly what you'd expect from Martin Sexton, the evidence shows he's still a fine singer and a capable guitarist and he and producer Crit Harmon certainly know their way around the recording studio. Sugarcoating is short on surprises, but the ones that are here work, and if you've liked Martin Sexton's work in the past, chances are this one will please you too.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming