Release Date: Mar 31, 2015
Record label: Warner Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
Apart from being the musician whose name is the most fun to type, Ron Sexsmith is also blessed with the kind of storytelling acumen that means he invariably locates the right button: usually the one tabbed “Miserable”. To borrow the Saint Bernard metaphor on his latest album: he’s on a permanent rescue mission, and if he looks and sounds hangdog there’s a big lick and a slug of melodic brandy for your trouble. Like his stylistic forebears – think Tim Hardin, Harry Nilsson, Ray Davies – Sexsmith isn’t as bothered about the marketplace as he is the goods on offer.
It’s a bit of an understatement to say that Ron Sexsmith is an old hand at this pop music lark: he started his first band at the tender age of 14, and by 21 was releasing his own material. That was 30 years ago. The intervening decades have seen the release of 13 Ron Sexsmith albums, their cumulative effect taking Ron gradually – very gradually – from complete obscurity to the fringes of mainstream familiarity.
It hasn’t been easy being a Ron Sexsmith fan. Even though he has toured the States often and had an initial trilogy of discs on Interscope, the boyish Toronto based singer/songwriter has suffered from the majority of his albums being released on a variety of difficult to find labels. That’s frustrating because those discs on smaller imprints such as Nettwek America, Cooking Vinyl, Emergent, Ironworks and Thirsty Tigers consistently contained wonderfully crafted tunes that should have been more popular if properly promoted and given a chance.
When an artist like Ron Sexsmith releases a new album, it's easy to take for granted that it will be as strong as anything in his wonderfully reliable catalog. His gift for crafting relatable, warm-hearted, and effortless-sounding guitar pop has been proven time and time again, and while some albums turn out better than others, none are bereft of at least a few memorable gems. A track record like this presents a pretty tough standard for any artist to match, but like a best friend whose support you can always count on, Sexsmith's legacy is his consistency and he delivers once again on his 14th LP.
Ron Sexsmith isn't exactly known for his sunny disposition. The pouty-faced, St. Catharines, Ontario-born troubadour left critics and fellow songwriters swooning in the mid-to-late '90s with melancholy, deeply earnest singles like "Secret Heart" and "Strawberry Blonde." Now, two decades in to his esteemed career, Sexsmith seems to have finally lightened up.His 14th studio album, titled Carousel One, opens with "Sure As The Sky," which features lyrics like "Sure as the sun is, I know what I'm shining for / Sure as the sky is wide, to hold every prayer inside, as sure as the sky is, I know things are looking up." The song also sports a taut drumbeat alongside piano and organ melodies.
When looking at Ron Sexsmith's career as a whole, one gets the feeling he was born out of time. He was signed in 1995, and has released 13 studio albums since then. Each has been met with considerable critical acclaim but sold rather more modestly. In all likelihood, if dropped into the late Sixties/early Seventies singer-songwriter golden age, Sexsmith's unique gift for melody and classic song structure would have surely seen him become a household name.
“And life wouldn’t seem so hard / If I had a Saint Bernard,” croons Ron Sexsmith, on, um, “Saint Bernard”, the first single from his new album Carousel One. On first hearing, this gently goofy ditty—which is all la-la-la-ing backing vocals, brisk drums and guitar licks (pun intended) as it describes a faithful pooch who fulfills the functions of friend and even stand-in for the narrator—seems like a throwaway and an odd choice of lead single for an artist who’s most frequently associated with sincere and earnest ruminations on life and love. As it turns out, though, this endearingly silly ode to canine companionship turns out, against all odds, to be one of the highlights of the record.
Ron Sexsmith, Canada's king of self-doubt, has a funny side (look no further than his Twitter account to see for yourselves) that he mines more obviously on his new record than he has in the past. Though more upbeat than its wonderfully sombre, mortality-focused predecessor, Carousel One has two faces: side A has a feel-good 70s pop/rock vibe, while side B contains a number of more melancholy songs and ballads. He seems to be making an effort to be more positive, though sometimes that comes across as cumbersome or strained.