While I’ve practically made it a personal mission to bring Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn to the attention of American audiences whenever possible, there are numerous other Canadian artists who haven’t really gotten their due here in the lower 48. Ron Sexsmith came to American attention early in his career with his 1995 self-titled Interscope Records debut, which was produced by Mitchell Froom who’s recorded with everybody, and the single “There’s a Rhythm,” produced by Daniel Lanois. In the early 2000’s, Sexsmith even made a record in Nashville with Steve Earle, but he continues to remain a “best-kept secret” of that land described by Bob & Doug McKensie called the “Great White North.”
Hermitage, released late this Spring, is the 14th album after that first selt-titled work 25 years ago, and it’s a fine display of someone who’s been honing their songwriting craft for decades. Sexsmith has always leaned into a nostalgic vibe for late 60’s era pop and rock & roll, echoing the likes of Harry Nilsson, Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney, and late era writing of Ray Davies of The Kinks, and that’s certainly the vibe he’s going for on the 14 tracks here. Framed by warm piano tones, and tasteful guitar solos, these are songs that focus on the sung melody, recalling songs written for the music theater for their precision and concise storytelling.
In “Small Minded World,” celebrates the unique individual who is “strange and beautiful/weird and wonderful/wild and colorful/all that makes you original” but advises them not to feel “sad, or don’t get mad… don’t feel blue, cause they don’t know you.” Here, even though he’s encouraging those who don’t fit in to wave their freak flags, Sexsmith’s approach is surprisingly light and airy. Obviously comfortable in his own skin at this point in his career, Sexsmith can be playful, “Winery Blues” he taps his inner “cute Beatle,” and in “Apparently Au Pair” he’s not above going for the fun, obviously lyrical word-play. In the opener, “Spring of the Following Year,” Sexsmith’s song follows the natural song of a bird with a long of true love that is as true as the bird’s song. While late in the album, “Morning Town” opens with a train whistle, a reminder that “there is music all around.”
Key Tracks: “Lo and Behold” / “You Don’t Want to Hear It” / “Whatever Shape Your Heart Is In”
Artists With Similar Fire: Rufus Wainwright / Ray Davies / Harry Nilsson
Ron Sexsmith Review History: Forever Endeavor (2013)
-Reviewed by Brian Q. Necomb