Hollywood frustrates Martin Sexton, a man who questions everything. The recent oil spill, for example, jives with what he sees as a World Bank-led effort to "run America into the ground, so that we'll be on our knees and have to submit to some new world order, one-world government."
"I don't think it's on purpose, but it could be," says Sexton, expressing disgust that a multinational, multibillion dollar corporation's mistake can steal the lifelong livelihoods of shrimpers, fishermen, and tourist industry workers.
Sexton's new album Sugarcoating addresses his skeptical outlook on the news in its title track. "Jetplanes flying into buildings/Nobody getting in their way/Tall twin towers made of concrete and steel/Coming down like papier-mâché," he sings, expressing his belief that 9/11 was an inside job. With classic cowboy-style backing vocals, the happily bouncing song calls out the money trail in Iraq, the news entertainment biz, and politicians and big business "out showboatin'."
"I want to invite the listener to enjoy the music and the production and hear the words," says Sexton, explaining that the rolling Western beat is intended to "dry it out."
Most of Sugarcoating isn't quite so biting, instead focusing on family and love. "Boom Sh-Boom" is Sexton's playfully sexual account of meeting his wife, while "Friends Again" was written to reconcile with his son after brief a fall out.
Sugarcoating makes several references to the Massachusetts-based singer/guitarist's sobriety and the opportunities it opened up.
"My main agenda in life, at one time, was to get high or drunk, and now it's not," he says. "I was closed for business, trying to seek out the buzz. I've been a recovering alcoholic for a long time. I don't drink or do drugs anymore. As a result, I'm available for life — to be the father that I am, the artist that I am, the brother and the friend that I am."
Sexton can still channel his demons though, as he did with co-writer Dan Mackenzie on the tune "Wants Out," a slow number about a deeply depressed individual.
"I'm not sure who that person is," says Sexton. "We set out to write a really down-and-out song. It had so much positive that it needed a little darkness, a little balance."
At his live shows, Sexton's happily focuses on the positive. He has invited fellow Bostonian and Charleston-favorite the Ryan Montbleau Band to open for him at the Windjammer and back him on his summer tour, instigating longer-than-usual sets that dig deeper into obscure cuts from his early albums. Montbleau plays and sings backup for Sexton, fleshing out a full-band sound for a performer largely known for his solo work.
Even in upbeat tunes like "Sugarcoating," those listening closely can't help but get a dose of Sexton's socially conscious world view. Like the photograph of a rundown building with the Hollywood sign he chose to include on the album's center spread, Sexton's statements are subtle but strong.
"I was driving home from Vermont on a two-lane road, and I saw that place as the sun was going down, boarded up and abandoned," says Sexton. "Hollywood being dilapidated — I thought that that somehow was connected to Sugarcoating. Imagine if Hollywood became irrelevant and people didn't watch the sort of crap that it turns out. That'd be an interesting day."