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Stars Pick Five! This Week: Martin Sexton

In a modern world seemingly overrun with bland and insipid singer/songwriters, staring blankly—calculated indifference—into space and sporting deliberately disheveled facial hair and burping up the sort of lyrics that a Hallmark Channel daytime movie wouldn't consider profound, can we say please thank the good lord for Martin Sexton? Hell, dude has put out nine highly listenable studio albums since his 1992 In the Journey debut, each one a dig into his psyche. The joy of Sexton is nothing seems forced; even when he's smashing together gospel, country, rock, blues, and R&B, there are no seams. Everything seems natural, leading to open and honest songs, and albums feel like thoughtful snapshots of particular points in life. Here, Sexton picks the top five that changed his life and tells how they informed his own music. Go see him with The Accidentals, Thursday, Jan. 12 at 7 p.m., Club Congress, 311 E. Congress. $26-$31. 21+.

1. The Beatles—Abbey Road: I found this record in a box of old LPs in my basement in 8th grade, and although scratched and warped, the creative genius shined through and lit my appetite for rock 'n' roll. Aside from containing some of the best songs ever recorded, the b-side mashup is like nothing I've heard since. This and other Beatles albums are the reason my records are as rangy as they are.

2. Led Zeppelin—Led Zeppelin I: This record with it's weight of hard-rock pioneering and ass-kicking soul introduced me not only to the heavier side of rock but to blues masters like Willie Dixon with "You Shook Me," and broke and rebuilt my heart with "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You."

3. Stevie Wonder—Songs In the Key of Life: This one I discovered in the attic in my older brother's pile of vinyl. I sing the way I do because of this and other Stevie albums.  I'd learn the songs and sing along late into the night reading the lyrics from the sleeve. Then at recess I would sing songs like "Sir Duke" and "I Wish" in the playground gathering a crowd of schoolmates. The nuns would ambush the joyful scene and extinguish it by brandishing their yard sticks and cackling "break it up Sexton" in their Northern Irish accents. 

4. Chris Whitley—Living With The Law: As a budding songwriter in the early '90s, the almost nonsensical poetry in the lyrics and slack vocal style gave me license to be imperfect, truthful and irreverent. 

5. Ani Difranco—To The Teeth: I listened to this record a lot in 2000 and elements of it show up on my Wonder Bar record. Her use of non-traditional tunings, incredibly informed and artful lyrics, and a bullhorn on some vocal tracks influenced the way I record.

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