Fall Like Rain
(Kitchen Table Records)
[Rating: 3 stars]
Martin Sexton used to have a voice like an angel’s. But with more birthdays under his belt, he’s also developed a warmer, earthier tone. As his new EP, Fall Like Rain, conveys, he’s still got one of the prettiest, most soulful voices on the planet. It’s just a little more coffee-with-rich-cream than fluffy white clouds. Yet he easily manages to reach those clouds with his effortless falsetto, as he does in the title song.
In “One Voice Together,” Sexton delivers a message about peace and brotherhood with a beautiful gospel chorus — a chorus of one multi-layered voice, it turns out. Sexton handles all vocals throughout this five-song EP, as well as a good deal of the stellar guitar work. This track is one of three he co-wrote with Dan Mackenzie, who provides all manner of musical augmentation and produced the song.
Sexton visits his lower register on “Happy Anniversary (Six Years),” a sweet li’l mid-tempo love song with an inventive mix of mandocello and vocals, and lyrics that touch with gentle humor on the challenges and rewards of staying together. Taken with the tracks before it, it makes one wonder if Sexton has spent a lot of recent time listening to Jack Johnson and Ben Harper. There’s not a definitive resemblance, just a mood that suggests their influence.
Sexton takes on the downside of love on “Burlington,” a breakup song expressed without a hint of maudlin self-pity.
Sexton says he did an EP because he felt he had something to say now and didn’t want to wait. That helps explain his choice of closer, the Stephen Stills/Buffalo Springfield classic, “For What It’s Worth.” On this standout track, Sexton offers a bluesy, “unproduced” solo acoustic version of a song that somehow never gets old — or dated. And no, those aren’t redundant terms. “Old” refers to the song; “dated” refers to its message. Sadly, we still need to keep watching “what’s going down.” We need to keep paying attention, keep standing up against wrongs. And Sexton’s potent, completely non-anthemic version, sounds as if he could have pulled it straight from Stills’ bluesman soul. It’s a great reworking of a song that’s always worth hearing again.