Friday, June 17, 2011

Cruel or Gentle?

Charlie Sexton

Cruel and Gentle Things




by Thom Jurek

It's been a decade since Charlie Sexton issued the sprawling, ambitious Under the Wishing Tree. But Sexton has been anything but idle. He's produced recordings by Lucinda Williams, Edie Brickell, Los Super Seven, Shannon McNally, and Double Trouble. He also played guitar in Bob Dylan's studio and road bands for over three years. Cruel and Gentle Things is only the fourth album issued under Sexton's own name. It was recorded, in many sessions over a number of years, whenever he got a break from his other occupational duties. It is a close and intimate affair that finds the songwriter and producer playing nearly everything over ten songs. There are a few guests who appear -- mainly bassist George Reiff and drummer J.J. Johnson, but overall this is truly a solo affair. The set opens with "Gospel," a slippery, languid acoustic blues testament to faith in times of trouble. The sheer skeletal beauty of the track is striking, and Sexton's vocal is full of a relaxed conviction that gets right at the heart of the lyric. Daniel Lanois would kill to have written this. Rock & roll enters on "Burn," a, dreamy and seductive nocturnal groove that stands in sharp contrast to the sheer lost-love desolation in its lyrics with a killer backing vocal by McNally. The rootsy country-folk stroll of "I Do the Same for You," with its lap steel and layered acoustic guitars, inspires with its gritty sense of dedication. "Once in a While," though another broken love song about moving on after a breakup, is bright bouncy pop fueled by a simple bassline and a layer of guitars. Dobro, ringing electrics, and skittering drums envelope the other instruments in a buoyant swirl around the singer. They seem to give him the courage to step out and state his willingness and truth. "Dillingham Lane" was written with Steve Earle and features Sexton's brother Will on backing vocals. A droning, open-tuned guitar piece, it narrates a look back to the street the pair grew up on. There's no romance in the lyric -- simply a statement of what was, looking at it as it informs the present. Ultimately, Cruel and Gentle Things is a series of postcards from various places and people in the songwriter's life. It comes across as an interior kind of travel record, one that charts, exposes, lays bare, and celebrates the years as the revelations of everyday life, lived in space and time but not bound by them. It is easily the finest and most poetic and musically realized record in Sexton's catalog.


1 Gospel
2 Burn
3 I Do the Same for You
4 Cruel and Gentle Things
5 Bring It Home Again
6 Once in a While
7 Just Like Love
8 Regular Grind

9 Dillingham Lane

10 It Don't Take Long

Get it HERE