CD Review of Exit Strategy of the Soul by Ron Sexsmith
Recommended if you like
Nick Lowe, Paul McCartney, Neil Finn
Label
Yep Roc
Ron Sexsmith:
Exit Strategy of the Soul

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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I
t seems like a fairy tale now, but Ron Sexsmith was a major-label artist once upon a time – and for more than just one album, too: between his self-titled debut in 1995 and 1999’s Whereabouts, Sexsmith had an improbable run as one of those sales-starved but critically beloved artists that every label used to have half a dozen of – and he did it at Interscope, a label not exactly known for putting positive reviews ahead of RIAA-certified sales figures.

Sexsmith’s fragile, hopeful music always seemed out of place on the Interscope roster – part of what critics have always loved about him is how strongly he evokes the homey, heart-on-sleeve singer/songwriters of the early ‘70s – but he was like a daisy in a parking lot: even if you knew he was doomed, it was nice to see him there. Fortunately, Sexsmith’s exodus from the Interscope roster coincided with the indie label boom of the late ‘90s, and over the last decade, he’s bounced around various smaller imprints, releasing five consistently wonderful albums.

Make that six. Exit Strategy for the Soul, Sexsmith’s Yep Roc debut, offers up 14 of the strongest songs he’s yet committed to tape. Acting as a sort of counterpoint to 2006’s quietly stunning Time Being, the new album finds Sexsmith and producer Martin Terefe taking his folky pop to some unexpected places – London and Cuba, to be exact. The Cuban sessions provide the album’s ear candy, making solid use of some beautifully understated brass from Amaury Perez and Alexander Abreu, but they blend surprisingly well with the other half of the record – mainly because it’s Sexsmith’s piano and foggy croon that hold the spotlight throughout.

Ron Sexsmith

The songs give you pretty much what you expect from a Ron Sexsmith album – namely, lyrics that manage to be both downbeat and optimistic, paired with beautiful, instantly memorable melodies. The album as a whole is slightly more up-tempo than much of Sexsmith’s previous work – even the slower tracks, like “Traveling Alone,” have beats you can tap along to – but all this really means is that the record neither speeds up nor drags; it simply maintains a steady, even pace, which may very well mean that you find yourself listening to it on repeat for the better part of a day without noticing how many times you’ve been through it. Tricky guy, that Sexsmith.

Will any of this help change his status as one of pop’s better-kept secrets? Not a chance – but given that Yep Roc has made a go of it with Nick Lowe, Robert Forster, Robyn Hitchcock, and Paul Weller, maybe Sexsmith has finally found a long-term label home. If you’ve got a weakness for smart, grown-up pop music, and you’ve somehow avoided getting acquainted with Ron Sexsmith until now, Exit Strategy of the Soul makes for an excellent jumping-in point. And if you’re already a fan, just pour yourself a Brandy Alexander and unplug the phone. You’re going to want to sink in and avoid any distractions for a while.

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