Ron Sexsmith is a singer-songwriter from Toronto, blessed with a tuneful and
warm register that makes him sound like Jackson Browne in his most reflective
The cassette Grand Opera Lane (1991) did not get him an audience, but
chance turned Ron Sexsmith (Atlantic, 1995) into a major affair, and the
album quickly established him as one of the most assured voices of his
That collection of minimalist folk ballads with spare arrangements
(courtesy of Mitchell Froom) echoes Tim Hardin (Secret Heart)
and Leonard Cohen (Words We Never Use), swings between
country demeanor (Lebanon Tennessee,
Heart With No Companion) and
classical composure (Speaking With The Angel),
croons in an old-fashioned manner
Wastin' Time) and rocks the Kinks' way
(Summer Blowing' Time, First Chance I Get).
Delicate and intimate, his music is made to last. Refrains resonate deep inside.
Lyrics paint organic landscapes. Every sound has a carefully laid-down
dramatic or cinematic function.
Other Songs (Interscope, 1997) is orchestrated in a slightly more
The nostalgic and affectionate concept recalls
Village Green (the Kinks' concept album).
Sexsmith's prudish intimacy permeates humble odes such as
Thinking Out Loud, Thinly Veiled Disguise and
While You're Waiting,
while his laid-back philosophy pens
delightful and melodious vignettes such as Strawberry Blonde and
Pretty Little Cemetery
(in the tradition of domestic simplicity that harks back to
the Everly Brothers)
and his dreamy plain register sculpts the serene melancholy of
At Different Times
(not all too different from Donovan's).
Clown In Broad Daylight (acid organ, clapping, reggae fanfare),
Nothing Good (reminiscent of the Byrds),
Average Joe (reminiscent of latter-day Beach Boys)
are more lively than usual. Too bad Sexsmith doesn't try more often to sound
Whereabouts (Interscope, 1999) lacks the same charged atmosphere,
although the music is more soulful and the instrumental accompaniment is
lush (by his standards). Distinguished musicians such as
bassist Brad Jones, cellist Jane Scarpantoni, reed player Chris Speed and trumpeter Cuong Vu turn each song into a chamber piece.
Despite the somber, Tim Hardin-esque odes of Still Time, Riverbed
with this album Sexsmith undergoes a transition from the folk ballad to
orchestral pop, as exhibited in Must Have Heard It Wrong and
(less successfully) in Beautiful View.
The woodwind and the string arrangements can steal the show, as they do in
One Grey Morning and Idiot Boy, two novelties marked by
circus music and Kinks-ian melodies.
The Byrds-ian Feel For You and the calm Seem to Recall
may have found a better balance between singer and accompaniment.
By dispensing with the orchestral flourishes,
Blue Boy (Spinart, 2001), produced by Steve Earle,
brings back Sexsmith's calling card:
heartbreaking ballads in the vein of Leonard Cohen with
Paul Simon's talent for identifying with the ultra-sensitive youth.
Sexsmith appropriates elements of funk (Not Too Big),
blues (Foolproof) and ska (Keep It In Mind)
without hurting the fundamental lightweight quality of his melodies.
The album is a mixed bag:
This Song opens the album with a catchy, upbeat refrain, but
Tell Me Again and Miracle In Itself bring it down with
their pop excesses.
The one tale that truly stands out is the brooding Cheap Hotel,
a wise investment in Leonard Cohen's pensive realism.
Cobblestone Runway (Nettwerk, 2002) is his most stylistically varied
collection yet, and the first one to toy with electronic arrangements.
Sexsmith is still the poet of the simple, humble Former Glory, of the
touching For a Moment and of the stately Least That I Can Do;
but These Days (back-up singers) and Gold in Them Hills
(piano and cello) introduce a playful, casual element to his odes.
Disappearing Act is an upbeat country song with synthesizer.
Heart's Desire indulges in some free-form jamming.
And Dragonfly on Bay Street sets his lyrics to a disco beat.
Retriever (Nettwerk, 2004) is an inferior album that doesn't find
the same balance of message and vehicle as the previous ones. It still
boasts some impressive tunes (the tender How On Earth,
Imaginary Friends, Tomorrow In Her Eyes, For The Driver,
Hard Bargain) but none is memorable and the arrangements are relatively uneventful.
Possibly thanks to producer Mitchell Froom,
Time Being (2006) attempted a return to the atmospheres of his early
Exit Strategy Of The Soul (2008) just sounded old-fashioned, like a lost
relic from the 1970s.
The more lively Spiritude and Brandy Alexander do not compensate
for the sweet-soul parodies This Is How I Know, Brighter Still and
Long Player Late Bloomer (2011) was adult pop of little consequence.
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