Ron Sexsmith
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Ron Sexsmith , 7/10
Other Songs , 6.5/10
Whereabouts , 6/10
Blue Boy , 6.5/10
Cobblestone Runway , 6.5/10
Retriever (2004), 5.5/10
Time Being (2006), 5.5/10
Exit Strategy Of The Soul (2008), 5/10
Long Player Late Bloomer (2011), 5/10

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 moments. 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 generation.
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 (Several Miles, 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 self-conscious manner. 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), and Average Joe (reminiscent of latter-day Beach Boys) are more lively than usual. Too bad Sexsmith doesn't try more often to sound alive.

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 and Doomed, 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 albums.

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 Hard Time.

Long Player Late Bloomer (2011) was adult pop of little consequence.

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