Martin Sexton – Fall Like Rain (review)

Martin Sexton – Fall Like Rain (Kitchen Table) CD review by Mike Kelly

Like a Quaker who has to speak when the spirit is upon him, Martin Sexton felt a pressing need to release a 5 song EP called Fall Like Rain, instead of waiting for a full length album.  Not known for releasing frequent studio albums of new material, this EP follows Sugarcoating in 2010 and Solo in 2008. Overall, the EP is pleasant, but not, in any way, a departure from his recent work.

The first two tracks on the EP both take on topical, worldly themes. The title track, “Fall like Rain” leads off the EP with some questions about how to do right in the world and where to find the right path (“How do I know, what I really need?/ Do I find it in Church or watching TV”). Track two continues the quest of doing right in the world by encouraging people to sing with “One Voice Together.” I imagine it was the message of these two songs which made Sexton want to get this EP out sooner than later. While these two tracks have some of the trademarks of Sexton songs, complete with beautiful baritones, flying falsettos, and hosts of gospel background singers, the songs themselves don’t soar. They are good, but not great. The messages are nice, but they don’t hold the power of some of his previous recordings.

That changes with track three, “Happy Anniversary (Six Years).” It is not coincidental that this takes on a more personal tone. Sexton seems to excel when he deals with topics that are closer to the heart and stories that are more personal (see “Caught in the Rain,” “In the Journey,” and “Beast in Me” for starters). Perhaps it is because, those topics lend themselves better to his ability to build a song’s intensity with his diverse and incredible vocals. Whatever is the reason, this track is by far the highlight of the original songs on the EP. In addition to his emotional vocals, the instrumentation on this track is really quite perfect–all the way down to the featured mandolin work.

His ode to Burlington (track 4 is called “Burlington”–most likely Burlington, VT near his Syracuse birthplace and Boston musical beginnings) is both heartfelt and honest.   However, it is the final track, a cover of Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth,” which is the gem of the EP.  His bluesy, upbeat take on the Buffalo Springfield anthem, is both a clever and beautiful re-imagination.   It contains both his amazing vocalizations and tasty solo guitar work.

While the overall quality of the EP is perhaps not worth the “must get it out now” feeling of the performer, it is consistently good, with two gems in “Anniversary” and “For What It’s Worth”.