Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Foolproof" / Ron Sexsmith

I love it when following one rock artist leads to another, and another...Elvis Costello led me to Nick Lowe, who led me to John Hiatt, who led me to Dave Alvin and Guy Clark and Joe Ely and Lyle Lovett...there's serendipity at work, and you've got to surrender to it. Like with Ron Sexsmith. I know I'd never heard of him before this year (that isn't a name you'd forget); then all at once, within a fortnight, I found a track he contributed to a Kinks tribute album (a lovable version of "This Is Where I Belong"), then heard Nick Lowe cover "Secret Heart" on a concert bootleg, and then saw a thread about Ron on the Elvis Costello fan website. It was like a big finger pointing down out of the sky saying You Must Check Out This Artist. So I did.

I love finding a great new singer/songwriter. Every Ron Sexsmith song I've downloaded so far I find myself humming two days later, and smiling to myself as I do so. Sexsmith has a disarming voice, with a reedy, nasal tenor that perfectly matches his baby-faced looks; it's an ideal folk music voice, though the proper label would probably be alt/folk/pop, and on this laidback track from his 2001 album Blue Boy he goes for a downright jazzy sound, with a muted trumpet and piano and brushes on the drums. The older I get, the more I hate loud overblown rock anthems, and the more I dig modest, melodic numbers like this, with a wry lived-in wisdom.

It gets off to an ambling start, fiddling around with the rhythms like you'd fiddle with a plastic cocktail stirrer while nursing a drink, waiting for your date to show up: "Foolproof . . . that's what my heart's become /And I challenge anyone to break in / Challenge anyone to make me open up the door / 'Cause I've been fooled before / And now I'm foolproof." But while this could come off as cynical boasting, Sexsmith sings it with a self-deprecating shrug that clues you in: he's nowhere near as tough as he claims.

In fact, he's just enough of a hapless romantic to let himself fall in love all over again -- "'Cause I've been around the block a few times / Been around enough to know I'm / Coming back for more / 'Cause I believe that your / Heart is pure / And 'cause I'm . . . foolproof." He's fiddling with the rhymes too, as if hoping to make the stars align this time, and shoot, anybody can see this guy is gonna open that door again after all. Sigh.

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