Texas guitar legend Will Sexton, younger brother of Charlie Sexton, grew up in in San Antonio and played with greats like Doug Sahm and Stevie Ray Vaughan as a teenager. Will is now based in Memphis, having married roots artist Amy LaVere in 2013. He found some time away from his busy session work to record his first solo album in over a decade with Don’t Walk the Darkness. He teams with New Orleans veterans, The Iguanas, for this effort. Together they cut the basic tracks of ten in pair of fast five-hour sessions. Sexton was most inspired by John Hiatt’s Bring the Family and tried to model on that iconic dynamic live approach.
This kind of recording is what Sexton has specialized in lately. He leads the house band for Bruce Watson’s family of labels – Fat Possum, Big Legal Mess, and Bible & Tire Recording Company. So, they set up in Watson’s Delta-Sonic studios to cut the album, with Sexton knowing he needed to give little direction to the skilled Iguanas, saying, “that meant I only had to worry about singing and playing a little guitar.” The Iguanas are a five piece unit of guitar, drums, bass, accordion/keys and sax, known for their Latin, classic R&B, zydeco, Cajun, Tex-Mex, and roots rock & roll. Sexton also brought aboard Memphis mainstay Art Edmaiston on sax, vocalists the Barnes brothers, and soul diva Susan Marshall. So, we have a gumbo of musical styles.
Sexton opens with the title track, with the background vocalists on the chorus “Don’t walk the darkness through the day” as he adds slide and piercing lead guitar to the hypnotic vibe which seemingly traces to a gospel chant. The saxophones introduce the R&B infused “Temptations Call,” again with background vocalists on the choruses. “Witness” is a mid-tempo Tex-Mex tune that glides along smoothly with Sexton’s warm vocal.
The chugging “Don’t Take It From Me” was co-written with the late icon Waylon Jennings in 2001, right before Jennings passed. The other older song is “Only Forever,” a soul tune written when Sexton was a staff songwriter in the early ‘90s. This is the first time it and the Jennings co-write have appeared on record. Each lends itself well to the musical accompaniment, the former driven by accordion, and the latter featuring nice backgrounds, especially Marshall’s harmonies
”Oh The Night (Night Owls Call)” reflects the Memphis sound, akin to the kind of music John Paul Keith and Roy Orbison before him, with a cool tenor spot from Edmaiston. “What My Baby Don’t Know” is a revved-up blues shuffle with Sexton’s guitar wailing away. “Mess Around with My Mind” has an old school feel with the Vox organ. The horns return for meditative soul-infused “The Whole Story” while the closer, “Fell in Straight View” is a gorgeous tune featuring one of Sexton’s best vocals with superb support from the band, especially organ and saxes.
Sexton claims the album is more about “feel good” music than overthought compositions. It does have a special warmth to it and encompasses lots of reference points in Sexton’s musical journey. “I just figured it was time for me to reconnect with singing and fronting a band, something I haven’t done in a long time. This is a new start for me, but also kind of the logical extension of everything I’ve been doing since I was nine years old. The music is brand new, but I’m the same old me,” says Sexton. Welcome back. We look forward to more gems like this one.