It's easy to imagine curly-haired Canadian Ron Sexsmith writing and recording little neoclassical-pop masterpieces for the rest of his life, long after the modest critical and commercial rewards he's won have faded. His songs sport hooks within hooks, highlight his slightly pinched regular-schlub voice and come wrapped in the kind of warm production values the editorial staff of Magnet will never tire of; it's a formula a gifted craftsman like Sexsmith can keep turning over infinitely, discovering new variations to tweak. Retriever, Sexsmith's seventh album, doesn't break terribly with that pattern: "I'm a bit run-down," he sings over opener "Hard Bargain"'s mild Lou Reed shuffle, "but I'm OK." The pretty piano ballad "Tomorrow in Her Eyes" has Sexsmith holding onto the words we say whenever life tears us away, and in the acoustic "Dandelion Wine," he thinks of her with the warmest thoughts (though, thanks to some lazy enunciation, I initially thought it was "warmish thoughts," which is better). But there's a topical urgency to Retriever's center--"From Now On," in which the singer observes, "We live in times where choice is frowned upon," and "Wishing Wells," with people lining up to sell their dignity--that juices Sexsmith's songwriting, giving his sculpted melodies real zing. Keep tweaking in this direction, Ron. Magnet will learn to love it.
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