It's been 10 years since the last record by Charlie Sexton. In that span, he has worked with scores of people including production work as well as his famed guitar duties. He has played with no less than Bob Dylan, Don Henley, Rufus Wainwright and more, with special note to his live work with David Bowie. He has produced records for Lucinda Williams and Edie Brickell among many. All the while he was working on songs that he was saving for his next record.
Cruel and Gentle Things is an excellent set of songs that seem lovingly crafted note by note the way a custom guitar maker labours over each square inch. Sexton's voice seems like a cross between Dylan and a less nasally Tom Petty.
The Austin, Texas native gets things going with "Gospel", a Springsteen (Diesel and Dust era) -ish song that sounds like it would have found its origins on a back porch or around a fire. "Burn" has an excellent guitar sound, and an even better chorus. The melody line for "I Do the Same For You" is something that carries the strong to great heights.
He switches to piano for the title cut and it works well within the song placement. This is probably the best cut on the record. I say, probably because the rest are no slouches. In fact, there is no filler material on this disc. Cruel and Gentle Things saunters along with a powerful chorus and the subtle dynamics are exploited with great success here: the simple piano, the "gentle" female background vocals.
Just as the record is lulling you into a nice quiet place, along comes "Once in a While" with a jaunty gait that has you bouncing in your seat (OK, maybe that's just me). "Just Like Love" is simply gorgeous…a slow love song that seems almost effortless in the way it rolls off. "Dillingham Lane" is equal to the task as well.
This is a set that is essential for anybody who appreciates the way a note can resonate independent of a flurry of subsequent companion notes. Sedate but not without great emotion. Cruel and Gentle Things is a tremendous effort by Sexton who should easily return to the public eye with this release.