Ron Sexsmith avoids eye contact, staring at the table when talking. He’s the kind of guy who has a panic attack moments before meeting his idol Ray Davies and bolts from the scene. And he’s a little down on himself. “I just feel like an idiot most of the time writing songs,” he says. “But people have been very supportive, like I know what I’m doing.”
While the Toronto-based musician hasn’t had that big breakthrough hit album, he is regarded by peers-Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, John Hiatt, Chris Martin of Coldplay, to name a fewas a real craftsman. And for all his aw-shucks demeanour, a certain self-assuredness comes through on his latest album, Retriever. Working again with the London-based Swedish producer Martin Terefe, Sexsmith recorded the 12-song collection in only 12 days. “I think the time is gone when the labels were throwing money around and you could go to New York for five weeks to record and then to L.A. to mix, and they put you up in hotels,” he says, mentioning that he had an apartment in Nashville for five weeks when he made Blue Boy (2001) with altcountry artist/producer Steve Earle. “It was nice to experience that while it lasted.”
On his latest effort, the often-earnest Sexsmith, 40, provides his usual crop of corny ballads (Imaginary Friends, Tomorrow in Her Eyes), but there are some commanding pop gems (From Now On, Happiness). And Retriever is less experimental than his last CD, Cobblestone Runway-where he played around with funk, soul and electronic dance music. “This is more of a straight-ahead rock album,” Sexsmith says with a hint of confidence, raising his gaze for a brief moment.
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