herald

Wednesday 13 December 2017

pop

"Whoever said live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse must have been drop-dead gorgeous."

You can rely on Ron Sexsmith's Twitter feed to raise a smile.

The cherubic Canadian singer-songwriter delivers a steady stream of vaudeville schtick and epic puns that would have cartoonist and satirist Tom Matthews running for cover. I reckoned he must have had a back-room team of stand-up interns working overtime. I mean, how could he find the time? His creative output is impressive. This new 14-track collection is his 14th studio album. And still we get those endless wisecracks.

"My mom once told me that I was a real messy baby . . . of bib-lical proportions."

"Does an eviction notice count if you don't notice it?"

"Once a kid came up to me after a performance and said, 'That tune was sick'. I said, 'Yea, I guess it does have a pretty catchy malady'." That last tweet may well have happened in real life. Sexsmith has a gift for melody that would make Paul McCartney blush with envy. Michael Buble, Feist, Katie Melua, Rod Stewart and Emmylou Harris are just some of the artists who've covered his songs.

This latest bunch is produced by Jim Scott, a name you'll be familiar with from Wilco and Red Hot Chili Peppers albums. Scott brings a spatial muscularity to Sexsmith's soundscape that at times is reminiscent of George Martin's work with the Beatles or Alan McKenzie's engineering of those great Kinks singles.

But what is likely to catch the attention of Sexsmith fans this time round are the flashes of the man's wry humour. In the past, levity was something avoided in favour of pathos and gentle melancholy.

"Life wouldn't seem so hard if I had a St Bernard," he croons on a loping tribute to an imaginary friend who's "like a four-legged mini-bar". It has the sort of whimsical charm we associate with the vintage repertoire of Ray Davies. There's more word-play riffing on Lucky Penny which, from its conga intro to cheesy cocktail lounge keyboards, is as reassuring as Elvis Costello in full flow. "She's my lucky penny when I ain't got a lousy dime."

Getaway Car is a choogling romp about being able to escape tricky situations including that time "the songwriters' circle nearly brought me down".

A regular visitor to Dublin, Sexsmith has long established himself as a Premier League songwriter. On the maudlin countryish No One, with ripples of Floyd Cramer-style piano, Ron sings ". . . my Guardian Angel says I'm the losing kind. Well, takes one to no one".

Once again, Sexsmith maintains his expected standards of excellence with accustomed ease.

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