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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Ron Sexsmith, The Autumn Defense and more

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, January 8, 2007

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Ron Sexsmith, “Time Being” (Ironworks Music) ***1/2

Because of a criminal lack of airplay and attendant hype, Toronto’s Ron Sexsmith has existed quietly as one of the best singersongwriters operating in the pop realm since his self-titled 1995 debut. “Time Being,” his eighth solo set and 10th release overall, is another textbook case of superlative songcraft — smooth and understated melodies (which owe much to Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello) that support heart-rending and occasionally wry lyricism. In the first single, “All in Good Time,” Sexsmith sums up the contemporary songwriter’s lexicon, noting that “There’s a need for sorry and doubt/For darkness and for light/It’s how it must be,” and he spends a surprising amount of time on the lighter side of that equation in these 12 tracks, brightening the proceedings with unconflicted love songs such as “Never Give Up” and “Reason For Our Love.” But he remains keenly aware of the world’s tenuous bottom that could drop out at any time, whether in the broader political sense of “Cold Hearted Wind,” “Ship of Fools” and “Grim Trucker” or in more personal ruminations on mortality (“Snow Angel,” “And Now the Day is Done”). But Sexsmith has a smile to dress up the melancholy — “Jazz at the Bookstore,” a sly observation of how designer coffee culture has put its stamp on musical heritage (“Leadbelly’s in the background/Being drowned out by the grind ...”). With Mitchell Froom, who helmed Sexsmith’s first three solo albums, returning to produce, “Time Being” has the spare song constructs and subtle instrumental detailing that works best with Sexsmith’s songs, occasionally filling out for the bright electric sound of “I Think We’re Lost” and the buoyant bounce of “Ship of Fools.” All that makes “Time Being” yet another triumph, and one that will hopefully draw even more people in this time around.


The Autumn Defense, “The Autumn Defense” (Broadmoor) ***

A self-title is apt for the third release from this Wilco side project, as it fi nds multi-instrumentalists John Stirratt and Pat Sansone refining and codifying the Autumn Defense’s sound even further. The duo’s harmony vocals have become the songs’ hallmarks, tying together the rootsy tracks (“We Would Never Die,” “I Knew It All Along”) with the more sophisticated and nuanced arrangements of “This Will Fall Away,” “City Bells,” “Canyon Arrow,” “Criminal” and the sublime “Winterlight.” “Feel You Now,” meanwhile, introduces a more soulful flavor. Stirratt and Sansone certainly shouldn’t leave their “day job” with Wilco, but the Autumn Defense has developed into a fi ne downtime concern.

New and Noteworthy

Crime Mob, “Hated on Mostly” (Reprise/BME) — The Atlanta hip-hop quintet hopes to “Rock Yo Hips” on this long-delayed follow-up to its 2003 debut.

Green Day, “1,039/ Smoothed Out Slappy Hour,” “Kerplunk!” (Reprise) — Long-awaited reissues of the multi-platinum punks fi rst two albums.

Ty Herndon, “Right About Now” (Titan/Pyramid) — The Mississippi-born country star finds a new label home for his first set of allfresh material since 1999.

Erin McKeown, “Sing You Sinners” (Nettwerk) — The Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter and her backing trio take a spare and raw approach on her fi fth studio album.

Sloan, “Never Hear the End of It” (Yep Rock) — The critically lauded Canadians load a whopping 30 tracks on their first album for a U.S. label in 12 years.

Soundtrack, “Arthur and the Invisibles”

(Atlantic) — New songs from Jewel, Snoop Dogg and Elijah are audible parts of “Invisibles,” an animated fi lm whose voices include Snoop, Madonna and David Bowie.

Soundtrack, “Freedom Writers” (Hollywood) — Tracks by Cypress Hill, Gang Starr, Digable Planets, Naughty By Nature and others bring the appropriate fl ava to this inner city drama.

Soundtrack, “Jump In!” (Walt Disney) — The names (N.L.T., T-Squad, Kyle) aren’t familiars, but after “High School Musical” and “The Cheetah Girls” we don’t take anything Disney does lightly.

Supernaut “Burning Through the Motions” (In Music We Trust) — Heavy duty, high-speed hard rock from this quartet of Northwest music veterans.

Teri Falini, “The Room”

(National Recorder) — The second album from this San Francisco quartet (named for its lead singer) is a more tuneful affair than its angsty 2005 debut.

Various Artists, “Hyphy Hitz” (TVT) — An introduction to hyphy, a Bay Area movement that’s the latest offspring of rap, via artists such as the A’Z, Messy Marv, Keak Da Sneak and Mac Dre.

John Waite, “Downtown Journey of a Heart” (Rounder) — The former Babys frontman revisits past glories on this outing, reprising “Missing You” as a duet with labelmate Alison Krauss.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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