In the decade since his self-produced debut, In the Journey (Koch), Martin Sexton has earned a reputation as an outstanding live performer, with a dynamic control of a sweeping vocal range plus an animated, emotive delivery. Although his voice can be as effortless and as pure as James Taylorís, itís more often raw and gritty, and always extremely agile, especially in his robust falsetto. Heíll sing trumpet scats, yodel with confidence, moan with regret, and vocalize distorted lead-guitar parts through an amped and overdriven microphone. His wide-ranging instrument is perfectly suited to his personal musical playground of folk, blues, alternative rock, boogie-woogie, and soul.
But Live Wide Open proves heís no hack on the guitar, either. Aside from the drums, the audienceís occasional harmony, and an additional guitar on one song, the stocky 36-year-old on his six-string is a one-man-band capable of generating leads, bass, and rhythm, sometimes accompanying himself with thumb-slapped passages, other times acting as his own percussionist. Sexton has been criticized for falling prey to overproduced studio recordings, but this double CD, recorded live on last yearís cross-country tour, is ample compensation. What Live Wide Open canít offer is the experience of watching him boil in sweat, close his eyes, and ó with eyebrows raised and mouth open ó tailor his songs to the pulse of the crowd.
(Martin Sexton opens for Lucinda Williams next Friday, July 19, at FleetBoston Pavilion. Call 617-728-1600.)