album reviews

Martin Sexton
Camp Holiday
Kitchen Table Records (2005)

The title of folk singer Martin Sexton's latest album, "Camp Holiday," probably has two meanings. First, it alludes to Sexton's holiday spirit, as he will donate a portion of the album's proceeds to Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Maine for children with life-threatening illnesses. But more obviously, the title aptly describes Sexton's collection of traditional carols, whose simple arrangements convey the intimacy of a campfire performance.

That cozy, stripped-down feel permeates "Silent Night": After the first verse, Sexton steps aside to let his father and his daughter each sing a verse. The three Sextons sing the final stanza together, their slightly uneven tempos humanizing a song whose holiness is so often exaggerated. Sexton's father reappears on "Do You Hear What I Hear" as the voice of the king, echoing the earnestness in his son's vocals.

Sexton does hint at a third meaning for his album's title with a few campy covers. If his off-kilter, percussive "Little Drummer Boy" had gone one step further, the lullaby would have turned into a reggae song. And though his vocal trills in "Blue Christmas" do emphasize the song's melancholy, a few overwrought moments make his shrill howl sound nearly canine. Despite a few quirky interpretations, "Camp Holiday" is a collection whose simplicity and sincerity make it as comfortable as a winter fire.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 16 December 2005, Page WE08
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