But the record isn't a downer. The rollicking two-stepping tunes, "Things I Once Adored," "Down The Line," "Unholy Train," and "Finger the Pie," are sprinkled throughout, adding a live energy without overwhelming the more introspective work. The fuzzy guitar, two-four bass, and incessant snare drum of "Down the Line" are pure Saturday night honky-tonk, and a quick, pick-up blast. This tonal mix has been mined by Lone Justice, the Geraldine Fibbers, Emmy Lou Harris, and Lucinda Williams. But there's always room for one more set of heartfelt songwriters in that club.

-- David Simutis

Martin Sexton
The American

On this audacious major-label debut, the Boston songwriter takes Americana on a cross-country joy ride. The title track, with its weepy pedal steel and slinky castanets, manages to weave Western swing and bossa nova without a seam showing. "Love Keep Us Together" weds Sexton's supple tenor to a juicy R&B riff, while "My Maria" weaves sinewy guitars around a gospel chorus composed of, well, Sexton, Sexton, and Sexton.

Aside from drumming duties, which he wisely leaves to Joe Bonadio, Sexton provides most of the sound here, and his ability to bridge genres is a testament as much to his clever orchestration of guitar, bass, and various organs (pipe, prairie, Hammond) as it is to the durability of his melodies.

The real draw here, though, is Sexton's voice, which sweetly croons and soars into brilliant falsetto passages. ("The Way I Am" showcases his pipes: In the space of a minute, his voice assumes the shape of a lost troubadour, a crusty old drunk, and a squeezebox.) The incandescent "Candy" breaks my heart every time I hear it, then mends it all over again.

Best album of the year so far. By a mile.
-- Steve Almond

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