John Southworth Sedona Arizona

Arizona is a long way from Pennsylvania, but the nomadic, starry-eyed Southworth has done himself a world of good with his migration south. When the Toronto-based singer-songwriter debuted in 1997 with Mars Pennsylvania, his songs intimately detailed an ageless loner who was out of place in the modern world, but who suspected that it wasn’t so very different from the distant past he dearly idealised. Sedona Arizona finds Southworth among the living — still prone to wandering, still enamoured of the way things could be, but more willing to laugh at the absurdities in himself and his fellow man. Thankfully, Southworth hasn’t only retained the charms that made Mars such an audacious debut, but has used them in the service of songs that are more instantly loveable to those who might have found him more bewildering than bewitching. Of course, Southworth’s songwriting still owes more to “then” than “now”: his fascination for a bygone era evokes Van Dyke Parks’s classic Americana, his wry turn of phrase sits well beside Randy Newman’s best work. Rhythmically, however, the impeccable drumming of producer Hawksley Workman brings Southworth up to date, as does the acknowledgement of contemporary dilemmas in “Cute Girls Gay Guys” and “Millionaires Everywhere.” Supping a pint in a Toronto pub, Southworth offers that “Mars reflected my love for the last 100 years of pop music in all its various forms. I spent the last year before making [Sedona] listening to the radio and trying to understand certain things in modern music, to see if there was any way I could make a comment on it.” Deliberately recorded quickly, Sedona sounds sonically flat upon first hearing, but comes alive on headphones, where ingenious vocal arrangements and subtle instrumental touches come to the fore with each successive listen. And the title track, it must be noted, is a classic. “I think it’s the most exciting, joyous, strange album of the year,” Southworth states matter-of-factly. This is an instance in which perceived arrogance is simply a case of wholly deserved self-belief. (Water Street)