It’s a bit of an understatement to say that Ron Sexsmith is an old hand at this pop music lark: he started his first band at the tender age of 14, and by 21 was releasing his own material. That was 30 years ago. The intervening decades have seen the release of 13 Ron Sexsmith albums, their cumulative effect taking Ron gradually – very gradually – from complete obscurity to the fringes of mainstream familiarity. He’s leapt from label to label, diminishing the exposure of new releases and making many of his older recordings nigh impossible to track down, but the sheer quality of this likeable Ontarian’s songwriting is no longer championed by Feist alone (fun fact: Secret Heart is a Sexsmith number).
Ron’s last album, 2013’s Juno Award-winning Forever Endeavour, was well received as something of a downcast masterpiece, yet the man himself does not dabble in maudlin melodies exclusively; rather, his thoughtful lyrics and tender troubadourism have a tendency to be misconstrued as unremittingly miserable. Perhaps mindful of this, Ron seems to have made a conscious effort to lighten the palette for Carousel One. The result is an LP on which low-key rock and roll, easy ballads and warm sincerity make for an effortlessly accessible aural experience – even by Sexsmith standards.
Highlights among the album’s 16 unhurried tracks include opening pair Sure As The Sky and Saint Bernard – both of which stump up poetic reassurances reclined over sun-dappled soundscapes – Loving You’s Emmylou Harris-style slide guitar and brushed percussion, and No One’s clever composition and up-tempo demeanour. Getaway Car threatens to steal plaudits with its Ray Davies-like progressions and humorous tale of escape from a suffocating songwriters’ circle, but it’s the utterly timeless Lucky Penny that takes the pendant, its toe-tapping organ riff and irresistible refrain channeling the inch-perfect craftsmanship of Burt Bacharach or even Paul McCartney in his post-Beatles pomp (if such a thing can be said).
Ron’s expertise is equally evident in the fact that Carousel One doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater: a cheery disposition prevails for the most part – as intended – but there’s plenty of scope to add to an ever-growing songbook of slow burners. Nothing Feels The Same Anymore serves up restrained, tuneful regret that slots more comfortably into the overarching Sexsmith canon than it does into Carousel One’s running order, while Many Times’ protagonist is positively inconsolable: “Many times I’ve looked out on the rain / At the headlights down on Main / and wondered then if you were lonely too”. Futile yearning, it would seem, is not something you grow out of if you’re an earnest singer-songwriter.
Such reigned-in passages are counterbalanced by the hook-endowed Before The Light Is Gone, the pleasantly harmonic Tumbling Sky and the chipper, piano-led Can’t Get My Act Together (which, in fairness, is perhaps a little too Keane-like for its own good). As a result, Carousel One exists as an album on which “meticulous” is the watchword; on which Sexsmith’s mastery of his craft is more readily apparent than ever; and on which a decades-long career has taken a turn for the cheerful. Just in time for the summer, too. One would almost think he planned it that way.