Published Mar 30, 2015Ron 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. That instrumentation, along with Sexsmith's newly adopted, conversational, jolly ol' boy delivery, evokes Paul McCartney circa "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"; midway track "Getaway Car" might even be mistaken for a Wings B-side, thanks to Sexsmith's downright exuberant vocals, his catchy-yet-simplistic lyrics and the cheery horn riffs that back him up. Other Carousel songs, like "Saint Bernard," and "Before the Light is Gone," share the childlike awe of Ringo Starr's turns on "Octopus' Garden" and "Yellow Submarine," if not so much in instrumentation than in sentiment (sample lyric from "Saint Bernard": "Life wouldn't seem so hard, if I had a Saint Bernard / In my imaginary backyard").
But longtime fans of Sexsmith's tearjerkers needn't worry: Carousel features more than a few of the songwriter's trademark odes to heartache. "Nothing Feels the Same Anymore" is quintessential Sexsmith, containing everything we've come to expect from one of his tunes: the way he tenderly strums his guitar, the way his voice holds notes at the end of each bar — as if he were wincing and trying not to wail — along with downtrodden lyrics like "It feels as though heaven has closed the door," and "Birds, they seem like they've forgotten their songs."
Sexsmith returns to his upbeat sound on album highlight "No One," on which croons smoothly murmured vocals over a punchy backbeat. The lyrics may sound all too typically Sexsmith-esque at first, as he sings about "having no one" and describes a guardian angel that calls him "the losin' kind," but in the next breath he delivers a shockingly snide retort, telling that dismissive deity that it "takes one to know one."
This glimpse of Sexsmith's rowdier side will make listeners long for an entire LP of such feisty fare. Unfortunately, "Nothing Feels the Same Anymore" breaks up the cohesion of this otherwise McCartney-indebted album. Hopefully "No One" is an indication of the long-hidden spunkiness that Sexsmith will finally reveal in full on his next effort. If that doesn't happen, and his follow up is as joyful as Carousel, fans will still be pleased by one fact: Ron Sexsmith's days of being pigeonholed as a sad sack are long gone. (Warner)