The title track of Sexton’s new album — his first in a decade — rides along a shimmering guitar line that snakes it way through the rolling snare drums and vocal chants of this Mississippi Hill country blues. The hypnotic rhythms ward off the edges of darkness that shade in on the singer’s life even as they affirm the light that illumines the singer’s path. “Don’t Walk the Darkness (Through the Day),” with its Alvin Lee-like lead lines, creates a bluesy and soulful musical space out of which the rest of the album grows.
“Temptations Call” launches with raucous Memphis horns, propelling the song off the grooves with a David Bowie-meets-the Stones-meets-’70s soul flavor. The swampy ballad “Witness” floats along cascading guitars — with a touch of Tex-Mex seasoning by way of accordion — undulating with Sexton’s gravelly vocals. “Witness” illustrates the ways that Sexton can shape his vocals to the character of the song: loud and growling for the rockers, soft and sensuous for the ballads.
Sexton wrote the Texas country rocker “Don’t Take It from Me” with Waylon Jennings in 2001, right before Jennings passed away. It’s one of the two older songs that Sexton pulled out for this new album. The other, “Only Forever,” has a doo-wop, street-corner singing ring to it, especially in the background call-and-response vocals in the chorus; the song also recalls the sounds of Uncle Walt’s Band. Shimmering guitars weave with sensuous horns on “Oh the Night (Night Owls Call)” in a shuffling soul tune reminiscent of the Memphis sound of the late ’60s, and the sax solo on the bridge rivals King Curtis’ blowing on his work with Duane Allman. The album closes with the ethereal “Fell in Straight View,” whose jazz flights, sonic structure, and vocals recall Van Morrison’s “Coney Island” from Avalon Sunset.
Don’t Walk the Darkness is a joyous collection of music that perfect for dancing wildly across the dance floor or slowly in the shadows with a lover. It’s also a moving celebration of life, light, and love, and it’s good to have Sexton back delivering these tunes.