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Ron Sexsmith - Retriever Print E-mail
Monday, 17 May 2004
Image Ron Sexsmith was not blessed with a particularly assertive singing voice, so his vocalizing is never something that stops you (the listener) dead in your tracks. Instead, he was born with a gift for turning concise human truisms into meaningful and memorable lyrical lines. His latest unassuming release, Retriever, requires that close attention be paid to it. And if this simple user instruction is followed, it’s an album that will provide a bevy of heartwarming revelations.

One song in particular that stands out above all the rest here, as probably the best song Morrissey never wrote, is called “Imaginary Friends.” It takes deadly aim at the wasted social efforts involving superficial friendships. These are the friends, as Sexsmith insightfully puts it, “(That) meet you when your ship comes in/But never meet you eye to eye.” And he later summarizes, “Imaginary friends/They don’t exist.” Another striking song is “For The Driver,” which empathizes with people suffering under the weight of tragic circumstances. Such dire situations range from a driver who hits a child that is chasing a ball across his path, to the soldier at war, to the lady of the night. Sexsmith obviously feels their pain.

This singer/songwriter is certainly not the enthusiastic lifter of spirits that either Springsteen or U2 can be, but the chime-y drive of “Not About To Lose” will still do more to cheer you up than hundreds of so-called self-help books found in your local bookshop. It’s a song of self-determination that – in its own quiet way – suggests that Sexsmith is not about to lose his grip on fragile happiness. Let’s just call this low-key inspiration.
The lyrics here are deceptively simple in many places. And although Elvis Costello has highly touted Sexsmith’s work in the press over the years, you’ll rarely hear oddball Costello-ian couplets or ear-catching puns embedded in Sexsmith’s own work. Instead, he tells straight stories, with nearly predictable lines that somehow get to the point more eloquently than all the verbal filigree in the world could ever accomplish. But if you listen closely to “Hard Bargain,” for example, Sexsmith throws in a line about being right where he belongs, which hearkens back to his love for “This Is Where I Belong” by The Kinks. (By the way, if you like either Sexsmith or The Kinks, be sure and pick up a recent tribute to that Ray and Dave Davies’ band, which features Sexsmith’s version of that British Invasion chestnut.)

Sexsmith also writes sweet love songs, such as “Whatever It Takes,” which is soulful and string-backed, and could easily pass for a vintage ‘70s Philadelphia International song. When he rocks, which is not very often, his sound approaches a Kinks flavor (there’s that musical reference again), which is exemplified by “From Now On” and “Wishing Well.” Yet something like “Tomorrow In Her Eyes,” with its stately piano underpinning, is much more Sexsmith’s style and comfort level.

With all its subtle charms, “Retriever” is simply golden.

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