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Record Review 

A folk minstrel who started out busking for change in Boston's Harvard Square, Martin Sexton's recent shift into sexy singer/songwriter soul-crooner seems unlikely. Yet the multi-octave vocalist -- who sounds like a mix of Prince, Jeff Buckley and the Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian -- seems completely natural in his surroundings.

Like those of early Van Morrison, Sexton's songs seem effortlessly constructed on his second major label release, Wonder Bar. They emerge fully formed with literate lyrics and gracefully powerful melodies that swirl around his swooping falsetto. Certainly his stripped-down band -- comprised of veteran Peter Gabriel bassist Tony Levin and Springsteen's original keyboardist David Sancious -- keeps the sound airy yet condensed. But it's Sexton's stimulating mesh of thoughtful lyrics -- with sinewy, humpa-humpa soul and tossed-salad tempos on tracks such as "She Cries and Sings" -- that'll hook you.

Sexton's frisky side sneaks out in "The Things You Do to Me" ("like any other guy, I got sex on my brain") and in the humorously controversial "Hallelujah," where over a bubbling beat and simmering wah-wah guitar he questions the example set by Jesus hanging with prostitutes and having some drinks.

By combining a folkie's brain with a soulman's heart (and groin), Martin Sexton creates music for pondering, or for having wild sex. In the best case scenario, you could do both.

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