By John Benson
As election time draws near, folk singer-songwriter Martin Sexton felt the urgency to release his latest EP “Fall Like Rain.”
“There are tunes on the record that I think are relevant now, and I didn’t want to wait to put them out,” said Sexton, calling from Anchorage, Alaska. “But they’re not protest songs. I don’t believe in right or left or red or blue anymore. I believe in people who have different opinions, but at the end of the day, we all respect one another. That’s the way I was raised. I have all kinds of people in my family — Republican, Democrat, gay, straight. At the end of the day, we disagree but we love each other.”
“Fall Like Rain” finds the Syracuse, N.Y., native challenging the status quo on the tender title track, the melodic “One Voice Together” and a stripped down cover of timeless ’60s protest song “For What It’s Worth.”
What makes the latter stand out is while other covers of the song have focused on the unique guitar hook, Sexton instead takes a bare-bones approach, ostensibly eschewing the classic chords and embracing the “Stop, hey, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down” song with his vocal style.
“It’s sort of a subdued acoustic cover,” Sexton said. “I love doing that, just the voice and the acoustic guitar. You can get away with a lot. I can cover ‘Purple Rain,’ anything from Hendrix or Led Zeppelin. And just the fact it’s a guy on a guitar singing it I think makes it a little more interesting.”
Making something more interesting than the ever-shifting winds of contemporary music, Sexton cut his teeth in the Boston music scene, where in 1992, singing on the streets of Harvard Square he sold more than 20,000 copies of his debut, “In the Journey,” out of his guitar case.
Fast-forward 20 years and that’s the number of people Sexton played to last summer when he opened for the Dave Matthews Band at Blossom Music Center. Throughout his career, live audiences have ranged in size from 200 to 20,000, but Sexton has remained true to his folk sounds throughout his nearly 10 releases.
More so, his music has infiltrated many worlds. He’s performed at concerts ranging from pop (collaborating with John Mayer) to the jam scene and classic rock (collaborating with Peter Frampton). He’s appeared at the Newport Folk Fest, Bonnaroo, the New Orleans Jazz Fest and Carnegie Hall.
Also, on occasion, Hollywood comes calling. So far his tunes have been featured in films and television. The latter includes memorable scenes in “Scrubs,” “Parenthood” and “Brotherhood.”
Still, mainstream success may have eluded Sexton, but you get the sense he’s quite comfortable with his career.
“I like the groove I’m in,” Sexton said. “It’s always a slow and steady upward climb, and artistically I’ve been able to express myself freely and have people come to shows. It’s been a real fruitful ride in every way. I don’t have anything on the burner like the next big turn in my career. Basically, I’m going to write some new songs, remain true to my heart, keep my ears and eyes open and keep singing about what I think is the truth.”