Ron Sexsmith has a rainy-day voice to match his rainy-day songs. Mellifluous but with enough of a burr to keep your attention, it's a unique quality that the baby-faced, 47-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter lends to his 11th album, one of his finest efforts to date.
The 13 songs here seem to float and flutter, a collection of guitar-driven pop lifted by breezy strings and piano swells. But don't mistake the sweetness of the sound or the prettiness of the production for softness. Sexsmith's pillowy delivery packs a sucker punch. He is a nervy writer, and if his songs are marked by a woeful sort of beauty, they are also sharp-eyed, biting, gritty.
Among songwriters, Sexsmith is one of the better observers. "I don't mean to eavesdrop/It's just part of my job, I guess," he sings on the title track. That awareness of the world around him is heartbreakingly apparent on "Michael and His Dad," on which Sexsmith sings, "Mother's gone away to the land of safe keeping/Michael walking from the grave/Says "Dad, she's only sleeping."
There's more melancholy moodiness on "The Reason Why" as Sexmith laments, "Hoping for an answer/I glance up to indifferent skies/There's no reply/Or a reason why." Only on "Middle of Love" does optimism sound within Sexsmith's reach, as he avers that, having found true love, he "can't go back/from a palace to a shack/from e-mail to a fax machine."
If you never quite know what Sexsmith's songs are all about or where they're going, you're drawn in enough to imagine all the possibilities. And can you really ask for much more than that?
Recommended tracks: "Get in Line," "Michael and His Dad"