Martin Sexton with David McMillin
Friday • 20th Century Theater
Martin Sexton's latest album, Seeds, is a career pinnacle and a reminder of the path he's traveled — literally and figuratively. The Syracuse, N.Y., native relocated to Boston in 1990 and quickly became a fixture in the city's thriving but tough coffeehouse Folk scene. Sexton's signature was channeling the sounds of the American songbook — Gospel, Country, Blues, Jazz, Soul, Rock — into the Folk idiom through his stellar songwriting gift.
Sexton released a demos album on his Kitchen Table label, garnering big sales (20,000 copies) for a homemade product, great reviews and numerous Boston Music Awards. Indie label Koch signed Sexton and issued a re-released In the Journey in 1992 and his first proper recording, 1996's Black Sheep. Sexton moved to Atlantic for The American, his acclaimed third album, and the conceptual and personal Wonder Bar, Sexton's 2000 re-creation of '70s FM radio utilizing original songs. But to capitalize on his live reputation, Sexton resurrected Kitchen Table for 2002's Live Wide Open. Sensing the rewards of independence, Sexton left Atlantic for 2005's highly regarded Camp Holiday, his set of Christmas songs translated in his inimitable kitchen-sink American Folk style. Sexton insists no label chicanery was responsible for his lack of post-Atlantic studio product in the seven years between Wonder Bar and Seeds.
"I basically worked (Live Wide Open) as if it were a studio record," Sexton says.
"Between 2002 and Camp Holiday, I toured, wrote, raised my kids and built a home, all that good human stuff that I hadn't done before. You gotta keep the home fires burning. That's another benefit of being independent. I don't have some big corporation breathing down my neck: 'It's been 18 months since your last record. Where's the songs? Where's the tour? Where's the money?"
Seeds is Sexton's best album to date, outselling even his major-label work and drawing record crowds to his recent concerts. And his exposure was increased exponentially last year when the TV series Scrubs used Sexton's "Diner" across an entire episode.
"It's a celebratory time for me, because I'm independent and doing, business-wise, better than ever," Sexton says. "It's a great feeling because I'm not relying on any major corporations, any major sponsorships. I can be true to my art, to myself and to the fans, and I don't have to act like I love Coca-Cola or The Gap. It's just me and my music." (Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.) — Brian Baker
Nappy Roots with Famous Mr. Nobodies, N.W.O., Ill Poetic and Losanti
Friday • Mad Hatter
Quick, name three hotbeds for Hip Hop in the U.S. If you said L.A., Greater New York and "The Dirty South," you're right, of course. Chances are you didn't say "Kentucky." Buy given the international reach of Hip Hop today (you can now find musicians making the music in places like Tanzania, Turkey and Japan and most points in between), where an artist is from shouldn't be a shock to anyone.
The members of Nappy Roots met at Western Kentucky University in the mid-'90s, a mix of mostly Kentucky natives plus a West Coaster and Georgian. The sextet (Skinny DeVille, B. Stille, Ron Clutch, Big V, R. Prophet and Fishscales) put out its debut, Kentucky Fried Cess, in 1998 and, sensing the potential of the group's southern Hip Hop leanings, big labels came calling. They settled on Atlantic Records, which released 2002's Watermelon, Chicken and Gritz in 2002. A mix of Indie Hip Hop, Native Tongues and Dirty South, the album's many hooks connected with listeners and radio programmers. The CD went platinum and the band scored a hit with the raucous, playful "Awnaw" ("Awnaw! Hell naw!/ Man, y'all done up and done it").
Despite decent chart position, their follow-up failed to catch on and the group members found themselves going back to their independent roots. They released the album, InnerState Music, as an online-only stopgap release. But the next Nappy Roots album has been "upcoming" for quite some time (reports suggest it was supposed to be out at least two years ago). The Humdinger is now due next month (though Dr. Dre's new one might stand a better chance of beating it to stores at this point) and reportedly features production help from successful knob-twiddlers Sol Messiah, Rick Rock, Mr. DJ and Groove Chambers
With six members bringing in various influences, the Nappy sound is conscious and streetwise party music that is unobstructed by the "get mine" clichés that riddle much of today's successful Rap and Hip Hop. Perhaps Nappy Roots would still be working for Atlantic had they started pandering to the commercial whims of the day. But that's what makes the group so endearing. Their sound is uncompromising, honest and organic, and as they continue to follow their own creative instincts without the outside pressures to sell another million CDs, Nappy Roots fans are the ones who will benefit most. (Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.) — Mike Breen