July 26, 1995
Ron Sexsmith, Ron Sexsmith (Interscope 1995) -- Canadian Ron Sexsmith (the new buzz of the Great White North) has a pure and sometimes moody spirit. Though his voice isn't perfect (as Sexsmith admits), the songwriting and heartfelt delivery overcome all weaknesses.
Produced by Mitchell Froom (formerly of Crowded House), Ron Sexsmith has the mellow and folksy feel that is characteristic of Froom (who has also produced albums for Suzanne Vega and Richard Thompson). The album features such well-known musicians as Jerry Marotta on drums, Jerry Scheff on bass, and Froom on keyboards.
I'll say it right upfront -- Sexsmith is reminiscent of the younger Jackson Browne. Both featured a straightforward, unadorned delivery, with songs about average people and their problems. This kind of honesty fades as the material possessions increase (look at what happened to Jackson Browne and Billy Joel), so catch Sexsmith before it's too late.
Now age 31, Sexsmith grew up in a housing project in St. Catherines, Ontario. Beginning at age 17, he performed from one end of Canada to the other, from coffee houses in Halifax, Nova Scotia to the store window of a fish 'n chips joint in Victoria, British Columbia. He also did a lot of busking on street corners.
Says Sexsmith, "I thought I was going to be like Pete Seeger or Arlo Guthrie, singing about important things and joining important causes. Then I found out I wanted to make records." To afford a demo, he took a job for the Canadian government planting trees in Northern Ontario.
When he returned, his second demo - ten songs recorded for $200.00 - was sold locally, and he was encouraged. At the same time, he learned that his wife, Jocelyne (whom he had met tree planting), had a seed of their own sprouting. Sexsmith then settled down, and is now the proud father of two children, Christopher, 9, and Evelyn, 5.
In 1987, he moved his family to Toronto, where he met former Blue Rodeo keyboard player, Bob Wiseman. Wiseman helped Sexsmith record another demo in 1991, which was shopped around at major labels. The bait soon found fish, and Sexsmith was courted by several major labels. After an audition in the offices of Interscope's Jimmy Iovine and Ted Fields, Sexsmith was offered a contract on the spot.
Sexsmith admits that the album consists mainly of stripped-down ballads. According to Sexsmith, "Mitchell [Froom] said I had a real canary kind of voice, so we surrounded it with darker, deeper grooves. But this is definitely a sparse recording. Most of it is first or second take. The album's about honesty and understatement."
The songs on Ron Sexsmith include "Lebanon, Tennessee" (about moving to an unknown town because "there'll be a job in Lebanon, Tennessee"); "Secret Heart," the haunting opening track in which Sexsmith sings, "Secret heart/What are you made of?/What are you so afraid of?/Could it be three simple words?"; and "From a Few Streets Over," a song Sexsmith wrote about hearing the ice cream truck and knowing that he could not afford a treat for his children.
Also featured are "First Chance I Get," an uptempo love song written while Sexsmith was having marital difficulties, and a guest-appearance by Daniel Lanois on the reprise of "There's a Rhythm."
Others write that, in a live setting, Sexsmith is a powerful popster with flashes of Badfinger and the Beatles. On this disc, he follows in the moody Canadian trail blazed by Bruce Cockburn and Leonard Cohen. Sexsmith is right at home in this company, and has a bright future.
Starflyer 59, Silver Album (Tooth & Nail Records 1994) -- Newport Beach-based Starflyer 59 know how to make moody, sonically-drenched albums. Their 33-minute Silver Album is some of the best motorcycle music in a long time. If you like The Jesus & Mary Chain or the Pixies, this is the disc for you.
Starflyer 59 consists of Jason Martin on guitars, vocals and drums, and Andrew Larson on bass. Featuring tons of feedback and reverb balanced against often delicate guitar solos, Silver Album weaves its way from punk to rock to metal.
With songs like "The Second Space Song" and "Droned," it's clear where these guys are coming from (even if things are a little hazy for the band). One of the strongest cuts is "Hazel Would," which features dreamy vocals amid a fat and sassy guitar lead.
Blending a love for Triumph bikes with fundamentalist religious overtones, Silver Album is the best motorcycle music since Love & Rockets. There's not many purveyors of this stuff, so give Starflyer 59 a listen.
General Motors Stereos - I've always been a G.M. man. Chevrolets, Buicks, GMCs -- that's the car (or truck) for me. No Mopars or Rice-burners need apply.
But after buying two General Motors stratocruisers this year (a big Buick sedan and a GMC pickup), I have to admit that G.M. stereos suck. The stereo in my wife's Buick LeSabre is true low-fi; the sound is static and hollow, and has no spark or vitality.
And the sound system in my half-ton truck is even worse. The factory speakers are little 2" domes. They have, of course, the brilliant full-frequency response that you'd expect from 2" domes. To wit, none.
Furthermore, the factory installation leaves no option other than to replace these 2" domes with (get this) another set of 2" domes. Fortunately, an aftermarket bass tube works wonders. This is the same set-up Chevrolet uses in its Camaro. No wonder the new Mustang looks so attractive.
I've ridden in some Fords with great factory sound (particularly the Lincoln Continental), and am embarrassed for General Motors. Especially at fault is the Buick Division, which has been given free reign to design their own products.
American engineers generally set some of the lowest standards in the world (only slightly better than French and Italian engineers, who lack all mechanical and common sense). Get your act together General Motors. Install a factory stereo that sounds decent.
-- Randy Krbechek
Copyright (c) Randy Krbechek
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