Written by Bill Whiting – [email protected]
Beginning his performance with a stirring version of “America the Beautiful” from the Black Sheep recording, master singer songwriter and transcendent soul child, Martin Sexton, along with the Ryan Montbleau Band, put on a defining clinic of rhythm and blues originals before a packed house at Cincinnati’s 20th Century Theatre on May 23. Sexton would return to Black Sheep throughout the night, while Montbleau’s striking backing arrangements made for one of the most memorable Sexton shows in memory. Touring behind the winning new disc, Sugarcoating, Sexton engaged the tight throng on the floor with propulsive takes on “Found,” the swinging “Boom Sh-Boom” and radio single, “Livin the Life.” Montbleau’s distinctive guitar sound shaped the live rhythms of Sugarcoating with bassist Matt Giannaros, viola player Laurence Scudder, keyboardist Jason Cohen and drummer James Cohen, adding dash and spice to Sexton’s fuzz guitar like vocal treatments.Plunging deep into the archives, Sexton found the redemptive qualities inherent in “Hallelujah” and “Angeline” from 2000’s group oriented Wonderbar project. A nod to 1998’s The American came in the form of a riveting reworking on the yearning gem, “Candy.” Trending toward the upbeat, Sexton had the crowd singing back towards the stage on “Happy” from 2007’s seminal masterpiece, Seeds. But, it was the deep roots oriented material on Black Sheep that stole the show on May 23. An orchestrated improvisational reading of “Gypsy Woman” included swaying Eastern instrumental bridges and brute force scat singing that wowed the crowd and tested the resilience of Sexton’s vocal stamina. “Diner” proved to be a uniting thread for the enthused patrons at the 20th Century. And, along with hearing the rich, multi-layered jam offerings of the top notch Ryan Montbleau Band, they were treated to one of America’s standout musical treasures, the buoyant, ebullient composer and vocal star, Martin Sexton.