To listen to "Sugarcoating" is to stand witness to the metamorphosis of Martin Sexton.
The singer-songwriter has always been entertaining, even lighthearted in his musical pursuit.
But he switched directions on his seventh album, a heavier effort inspired by this post-9/11 world.
"I've always been about inspiring material but that's not so easy in the world as we know it," Sexton said. "With this album, I couldn't help but tap into how I'm feeling now. I tossed some of that awareness into my music."
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It's not as if Sexton, 44, who will perform tonight at Venue at Abode, has upended his entire musical approach. He is still all about the acoustic grooves, he says. But there is an urgency to the "Sugarcoating" tracks. The charismatic Sexton comes across as a wiser, more worldly performer.
"The last few years have changed me," Sexton said. "Our rights have gone out the window. Our freedom has gone in the name of safety. It's alarming what's going on right now and where will it go next? It's a scary time now with how politics have divided us and how the corporations do whatever they want to do. That's had an impact on my songs."
The music and the melody have always been Sexton's forte, more than lyric-writing. He took a giant step forward with "Sugarcoating," released last April. It was evident that he's put in the time honing his lyrical skills.
"I tried to write better lyrics," he acknowledged. "If you listen to my earlier work, it's dreamier and, well, the words often didn't make a lot of sense. But working with (co-writer) Dan MacKenzie helped me a lot. I called him the 'lyric police.' If I wrote something and he said that he didn't get it, I would have to work on it. It was good to be called on some of the things that I wrote. I want to be the best writer that I can be and Dan helped me make progress."
"Sugarcoating" is clearly one of Sexton's finest efforts.
"It's definitely something I want to build on," Sexton said. "I want to keep taking steps and challenging myself. I think I've done that with this album and I want to continue moving in that direction. I don't want to make the same album again and again. I don't see the point of that."
If you go
What: Singer-songwriter Martin Sexton Where: Venue at Abode, 1330 E. Douglas
When: 7 p.m. today