Ron Sexsmith, “Hermitage” (Cooking Vinyl)
Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith has been making pretty music for years, and he’s at it again with “Hermitage.”
Sexsmith’s 16th full-length album invokes the sound of solo-era Paul McCartney, both in the songwriter’s knack for inventive melody and in a voice that has always borne a similarity to the former Beatle’s gentle tenor. You can’t listen to a cut called “Whatever Shape Your Heart Is In” or the album’s first single, “You Don’t Wanna Hear It,” without hearing echoes of Sir Paul.
But Sexsmith bears another, less fortunate similarity to McCartney. A few of the cuts, most notably “Chateau Mermaid,” “Lo and Behold” and “Winery Blues,” are cloying. Not you-can’t-unhear-this cloying, like McCartney’s horrible Christmas carol, but still earworm material.
A theory here: What makes both singers susceptible to annoying you away from the good stuff is also what makes them appealing — their willingness to hunt for original melodies that might be hiding in plain sight. Both singers are adventurous enough that they sometimes hang the moon, but when they overreach, their songs can come off as precious.
Sexsmith does hang the moon more than once here. Songs like “Glow In the Dark Stars,” “Small Minded World” and “When Love Pans Out” are soothing, piano-centred ballads that add to the singer’s substantial catalogue of excellent songcraft.
Sexsmith says “Hermitage” was inspired by a recent move from Toronto’s west side to the more rustic environs of Stratford, Ontario, and you can hear the aura of calm settling into his soul. He plays every instrument on the album except drums, which in no way intrude on his newfound serenity.
That’s enough to keep things interesting. It’s not Sexsmith’s finest work, but there are enough good songs here to serve those looking for something soothing.
Scott Stroud, The Associated Press