Recommended Albums #74

Ron Sexsmith: Retriever (2004)

Ron Sexsmith’s 2004’s Retriever LP is the ideal primer on the work of the Canadian singer-songwriter, and certainly among best work of his career.

Delivered with his trademark McCartney-esque melodic knack, his insightful takes on (as he puts it) “the business of the heart and of the soul” come across as earnest, honest, and emotionally compelling.

“Hard Bargain” is a tribute to a stubbornly determined love that refuses to accept failure. In the hands of another–or lesser–songwriter, the self-loathing touched on here would have been the song’s focus. But in Sexsmith’s hands it is merely given proper proportion in the greater context of a remarkable love affair:

Each time I’m headin’ for nowhere/Doomed and determined to go there/Seems I never get far/’Cause you drive a hard bargain

How’s a guy supposed to fail/With someone like you around/I’ve tried, I’ve tried to no avail/You just can’t seem to let me down

“Imaginary Friends” is a cautionary ode to friends who “meet you when your ship comes in, but never meet you eye-to-eye”. “From Now On” is radio-friendly and had a topical feel in Iraq-War 2004. “Whatever it Takes” channels Bill Withers, adding another color to the album’s palette. And “How on Earth” extolls the amazement of finding a “love divine” in this vale of tears.

Unabashed romanticism is splashed across this album; it seems to come from a place of domestic bliss indeed. But Sexsmith’s understated style is always engaging, never cloying.

Sexsmith is a consummate song craftsman, combining the lyrical precision of Motown or Tin Pan Alley masters with an honesty that rings true. The songs sound lived-in here, as if the work of a man either revealing his own relationship status updates, as it were, or proving to be a talented illusionist. And that’s what a true songwriter does: either finds the universal in the personal, or makes the universal sound personal enough to feel real.

 

Listen to: “Hard Bargain”

 

Listen to: “Imaginary Friends”

 

Listen to: “From Now On”

 

Listen to: “Whatever it Takes”

 

Listen to “How on Earth”

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