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On the Road with Martin Sexton
This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
January 7, 1998. All rights reserved.
Singer-songwriter Martin Sexton is coming back to
central New Jersey for what he guesses may be his seventh gig here
in 12 months. But this time the peripatetic troubadour’s destination
isn’t a church basement or a high school auditorium, but the plush
upholstery of Princeton’s McCarter Theater. Not coincidentally, Sexton
will be carrying in his back pocket a contract with Atlantic Records.
A native of Syracuse who now calls Northampton, Massachusetts, home,
Sexton has been touring non-stop since the release of his debut CD
"Black Sheep," from Eastern Front records. "I’ve been
everywhere on the continent in the past year, to every state, and
to Canada," says Sexton. Yet New Jersey has been his most frequent
"I honestly wondered why I was coming through New Jersey so
he explains, "but if an artist doesn’t have the support of a major
corporation then you have to show up in person and play. And that’s
what I’ve done in New Jersey."
"It’s such a supportive area for what I do. First of all, you
have so many people. Then there are several radio stations that play
my stuff." Then Sexton gets to the heart — or stomach —
of the matter. His "shiny, shiny love" of roadside diners.
Sexton’s love ballad to diners he has known, from Maine, Minnesota,
Michigan, and Worcester, Mass., to Georgia, North Carolina, and
Florida — replete with aluminum siding, Formica, Bakelite,
consoles, cheeseburgers, and apple pie a la mode — is featured
on his "Black Sheep" album. And a year on the road has not
diminished the songwriter’s devotion to the New Jersey diner.
The self-taught artist comes from a family of 12 children, and
to records was the backbone of his music education. The Beatles and
Stevie Wonder were the inspirations of his teen years. Now he’s known
for his "superhuman live shows" in which, according to the
Boston Phoenix, Sexton has been known to channel an old bluesman,
a jazz scat singer, a soul crooner, and a trombone. The four-time
Boston Music Awards winner has been called "a master of dynamics,
reducing a room to silence with his blustering baritone, then teasing
that silence with a fluttering falsetto."
For the songwriter who also possesses an astonishing
vocal range, building an audience has been a grassroots, word-of-mouth
experience. "People come to my shows, have a good time, maybe
buy a CD, and the next time I come through they come back with family
and friends," says Sexton.
Now, at age 31, Sexton’s devotion to music and the road is paying
off. His first Atlantic release is ready to roll. With 12 new songs
written, he plans to begin recording this winter, with a
release date in August. Untitled as yet, he says this will be "a
very American-sounding record. I have a tune called `The American,’
so that might be it — but then again it might not." He
mastered his first cassette tape, "In The Journey," of which
he has sold 20,000 copies from the stage, to a CD that is also selling
Though traveling is a persistent theme of Sexton’s songs, he doesn’t
find the touring life particularly productive for his writing.
"I write a little bit on the road," he says, "but most
of my writing happens at the kitchen table when I’m back home."
He has also been collaborating on material for the new album with
Ned Claflin, with whom he co-authored "Diner" and "Freedom
of the Road" on the first CD. "In everything Martin touches
there is a heroic certainty," writes Claflin in his liner notes.
"Fiercely unpretentious, he is at the same time profound and
He makes boundaries explode like a fire-cracker."
So what will it be on Sexton’s return trip to Jersey?
"I like to eat seafood on the road, so maybe I’ll order baked
haddock, or then again, maybe I’ll have a meatloaf plate."
— Nicole Plett
An in-store performance and CD signing. Free. Saturday, January
10, 3 p.m.
609-683-8000. With Susan Werner. $16 to $20. Saturday, January
10, 8 p.m.
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— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.