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Charlie Sexton's 'Cruel and Gentle Thing'

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Charlie Sexton burst out of Texas and onto the national scene in 1985 as a one-hit wonder. The song was "Beat's So Lonely." Sexton spent the next two decades working with veteran musicians, such as Keith Richards and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones, bluesman Charlie Musselwhite and Bob Dylan. Sexton performed on Dylan's Grammy-winning 2001 CD "Love and Theft." Well, the latest CD from Charlie Sexton is titled "Cruel and Gentle Things," and Meredith Ochs has our review.

MEREDITH OCHS reporting:

The first time I heard--well, saw--Charlie Sexton was on MTV. I was a teen-ager, and so was he. Tall and lanky with chiseled features and gravity-defying, jet-black hair, Sexton was enjoying 15 minutes of fame for this s drum-machine-driven hit from his debut album.

(Soundbite of "Beat's So Lonely")

Mr. CHARLIE SEXTON: (Singing) The beat's so lonely. I bet it's lonely at the top. She hesitates, but the beat will never stop.

OCHS: That was Charlie Sexton then. This is Charlie Sexton now.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. SEXTON: (Singing) Do you call? Yeah, I bet you do. I never meant to be so mean. And all the pain I took out on you, that's always haunted me.

OCHS: Sexton's life story is kind of an anachronism, interchangeable with many pop and soul singers of the 1960s: a teen-ager with a hit record that wasn't exactly representative of what he could do, followed by relative obscurity. What Sexton could do, and still does, was play guitar better than most of the folks around his home in Austin, a city renowned for its musicians. In all that time, Sexton has only made four solo albums, and this is the one that tells his story.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. SEXTON: (Singing) And we both grew older. The wind blew colder. The only thing that still remains are the footsteps on Tillingham Lane.

OCHS: The songs on Charlie Sexton's new CD are scattered snapshots of the last 10 years, small thoughts scribbled on scraps of paper that developed into an album after the fact. Sexton wrote these songs for himself without intending to release them, and they retain that unvarnished sound. He spent a good chunk of the past decade touring with Bob Dylan, and he captures the peculiar way that time turns into a blur when you're traveling a lot on songs like this one.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. SEXTON: (Singing) The cold streets and broken beats in the days and nights without sleep, drifting on mean streets and losing pace, the first to explore some headline space ...(unintelligible) of a skyline view. Broken windows over rooftops, too. ...(Unintelligible). Summer's gone as the leaves have turned. We close the ...(unintelligible). That's understood. Oh, yeah.

OCHS: They say that the songs of your childhood form your musical aesthetic for life. But with Charlie Sexton, who was already a skilled musician by age 17, you have to consider not only the blues and country music he heard as a little kid, but also the music that was popular when he started making records, the music of the 1980s. I can't figure out why else a guy from Texas would sound like Elvis Costello when he sings. The imprint of that era combined with Sexton's mastery of roots music and love stories that revisit his travails make this very personal CD an autobiography that's worth listening to.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. SEXTON: (Singing) A bluebird with a voice that quivers will haunt the hearts he ...(unintelligible) sad memories were copied by his cold, blue (unintelligible).

SIEGEL: The album from Charlie Sexton is "Cruel and Gentle Things." Our reviewer is Meredith Ochs.

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.