Charlie Sexton – Cruel and Gentle Things (2005)
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Charlie Sexton has been kicking around the business since 1985, when — at the tender age of sixteen — he made his solo debut with Pictures for Pleasure. Though that album yielded the classic new wave/boogie rock hybrid “Beats So Lonely” (download), the rest of it was uneven — much like the whole of his solo output, which up ’til now has amounted to Pictures, 1989’s Charlie Sexton, and 1995’s Under the Wishing Tree.

Such a small handful of albums makes it seems as though Sexton’s been resting on his laurels or pumping gas, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He was also part of the short-lived Austin supergroup Arc Angels (”Sent By Angels” [download]), has been an in-demand producer, and also toured and recorded with Dylan. And now, ten years after his last release, he’s a solo artist again.

If you ask me, Cruel is worth owning for the opening track alone. “Gospel” (download) is a perfect slice of country blues; as the AMG’s Thom Jurek says, “Daniel Lanois would kill to have written this.” It smolders like a cigarette on the back-porch railing at sunset:

Don’t you look out the window
Don’t you peek through the door
‘Cause you just might find the thing that scares you most
I ain’t talking ’bout the devil, man
Ain’t talking ’bout a ghost
Just that shapeless thing that’s made us sorrow’s host

None of the rest of the album scales those heights for me, but it’s all pretty damn good. This is stripped-down Austin rock & roll with a dash or two of grit; there’s a nice balance between slow burners like “Gospel” and more uptempo fare, such as “Burn” and “Bring it Home Again” (download). If you’ve never heard of Charlie Sexton, this is a nice place to start. If you’re a longtime fan, dig on this 12″ version of “Beats So Lonely” (download).