Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith has been knocking around since the mid-’80s, earning consistent, superlative accolades from fellow musicians. None of this has ever translated to huge sales, and Sexsmith’s career has never approached household name status. He’s got a difficult case of Nick Lowe Syndrome — all cult status and critical praise. He’s even the subject of a new film, “Love Shines,” titled for a song on the new album; it’s a documentary about the making of this record, but it’s really an opportunity for famous fans — including Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, Daniel Lanois, even Kiefer Sutherland — to look into the lens and ask why you rubes haven’t clued into this pop genius.
That Sexsmith is a genius is not difficult to defend. In fact, he’s almost too good, too perfect. The melodies on “Long Player Late Bloomer” are so rich and sweet and beautifully shaped they constitute not just a presentation of beauty but an outright assault. It’s death by delicacy, quite possibly a lovely way to go. Intricate arrangements, of a density that would make Andy Partridge weep, knit together smooth guitars and supple flutes around Sexsmith’s buttery voice — equal parts Tim Hardin and Aaron Neville — and land somewhere on the lighter side of Lee Hazelwood or the heavier side of Burt Bacharach. The flutes on “No Help at All” actually provide considerable help, and the ham-fisted piano on “Late Bloomer” echoes the determination of his mid-career declarations: “The world has changed / leaving only the truth intact … I’m a late bloomer / I’m a slow learner / I’ve turned the record over / I’m a long player.”
Indeed, if any Sexsmith album stands a chance to make a mark in the wider world, it’s this one. Determined to stay his course, Sexsmith sounds more confident and strong here than ever. Producer Bob Rock — whose credits include more forceful acts such as Metallica, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and Motley Crue (but, to be fair, also the last Michael Buble album) — likely deserves the credit for pushing Sexsmith outside his natural shyness. Country music fans would find familiar attractions in the tuneful mosey of these songs — perhaps Sexsmith could crossover? Either way, the album has nary a weak line or a bad melody. Terrifying. Wonderful.