Ron Sexsmith albums used to be mini-events, and I still remember driving back from Baltimore after snagging a pre-release copy of Cobblestone Runway at the venerable Soundgarden, letting "Former Glory" flow over me. It's a certain kind of genius that can turn such simple lyrics, so many cliches, into songs that so wholly comfort and envelop you, take you inside Ron's little world, where the ghost of Tim Hardin is drug-free and Canadian and everything will be just as you remember, things won't be as bad as they seem. This wonder reaches what must be its logical conclusion on Cobblestone's "God Loves Everyone", a seemingly surefire clunker taken way beyond listenable in Ron's wistful, knowing hands. My relationship with the Sexsmith catalog has been gradually fraying ever since, with subsequent albums getting less and less spins before being relegated to the shelf, but the new Exit Strategy for the Soul is sadly the sign of a whole new stage.
The super voice is still there, of course, but the alchemy falls apart without just the right phrasing, and tune after tune on Soul seems to expose the seams with labored line readings. And the lack of a killer tune is only underlined by muted, dinner-party arrangements. In short, nothing really works for me, and some even rankles, in the way of especially inoffensive music looped at Starbucks or a particularly tame afternoon block on a genteel non-com AAA.
That said, the disc came with a download code redeemable for a "Here Comes My Baby" cover that is pretty nice. Ron, I love you, but you're bringing me down.
MP3: Ron Sexsmith - Brandy Alexander