Charlie Sexton Sextet

Under the Wishing Tree

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Under the Wishing Tree Review

by Rev. Keith A. Gordon

Jimi Hendrix circa 1968 -- swirling guitar leads, banging chords, and a chaotic, psychedelic sound. That's what "Neighborhood," the opening cut on Charlie Sexton's Under the Wishing Tree, calls to mind. Before the listener can get comfortable, the album switches gears with the whimsical, Celtic-flavored "Wishing Tree," slowing the pace down a notch and reining in a small bit of the previous song's musical anarchy without becoming the least bit dull. Fresh from the breakup of Austin supergroup Arc Angels, the critically acclaimed Texas guitar slinger formed the Charlie Sexton Sextet and recorded the most adventuresome album of his young career in 1985 with producer Malcolm Burn. Sexton's work on Under the Wishing Tree stands miles apart from the six-string pyrotechnics exhibited on "Living in a Dream" and other Arc Angels favorites. Assembling a band of relatively unknown but talented players -- including keyboardist Michael Ramos, bassist George Reiff, and drummer Rafael Gayol -- Sexton mixes raging blues riffs and big rock guitar with acoustic folk, New Orleans jazz, and Celtic influences on songs like "Spanish Words" and "Sunday Clothes." The 12-minute story song "Plain Bad Luck and Innocent Mistakes" is the album's centerpiece and defining moment, a tale as grand as the desert wasteland with Sexton pulling out the stops in a grandiose interplay of poetic lyrics and somber instrumentation. Collaborating with fellow Texas songwriters Tonio K, James McMurtry, and brother Will Sexton on Under the Wishing Tree, the younger Sexton's songwriting chops improved significantly from his earlier efforts. Under the Wishing Tree delivers on Sexton's long-promised potential, the album a portrait of a young artist caught in the throes of his growth pains, willing to experiment musically and lyrically in order to reach the next level of artistic maturity. Sexton would later gain further seasoning as a member of Bob Dylan's late-'90s touring band, adding his blazing guitar to the rock legend's acclaimed 2001 release Love and Theft.

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