• Margaret Malandruccolo
  • Ron Sexsmith

I’ve been writing about the Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith in the pages of the Reader for two decades now; throughout that time he’s remained one of the finest craftsmen of pop-rock walking the planet. In an era in which commenting upon the images in a music video passes for music criticism, Sexsmith is essentially detritus left by the side of the road. The situation is sad, especially for a guy who’s never had any real visual appeal and whose abundant wit has usually been subtle and stinging. But for those who still value a well-constructed song, indelible hooks, and smart metaphors Sexsmith continues to produce real gold. There’s nothing about his terrific new album Carousel One (Compass) that will set the world on fire, but its songs have ingrained themselves into my brain’s pleasure centers, and his easy way with words keeps paying dividends.

On his song “Saint Bernard” he sings about man’s best friend, only in this case it happens to be a portrait of the title’s dog hanging on the wall of his home. Yet beneath quips like calling the dog “a four-legged minibar” there’s something utterly crushing about how the narrator can’t rely on a living pet to provide comfort. Most of the album, however, is more optimistic—a relatively new mode for Sexsmith, who once rivaled the bitterness of vintage Elvis Costello in his withering portraits of soured romance—and some of his best songs subvert cliches in winning couplets, such as the chorus of “Lucky Penny,” where he avers “She’s my lucky penny / When I ain’t got a lousy dime.”

Today’s 12 O’Clock Track is “Getaway Car,” a gem with a serious Ray Davies vibe—Sexsmith’s charmingly lethargic delivery plays well against some stock rock ‘n’ roll guitar and piano licks, reminding me of a classic late-60s Kinks record—while the words celebrate the innate understanding the singer and his romantic partner share when one or the other needs rescuing. “Remember when / That songwriters circle nearly brought me down / You could see the look all over my face / And you instinctively new to pull the car around.” Sexmith performs tonight at the Old Town School.