Don Kerr / Ron Sexsmith

Destination Unknown

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For a songwriter who is so closely in touch with the gentle and childlike side of his musical nature, Ron Sexsmith has always swung pretty hard with the pop stick, mining his songs for all their hooks in the studio, and while there's no arguing that Sexsmith has a great way with a melody, it seems just a bit surprising that it's taken him 14 years after the release of his debut to cut an acoustic album. Destination Unknown was recorded as a collaborative project with Don Kerr, who has played drums and cello with Sexsmith's road band for years, and the performances are largely centered on their harmonies, with Kerr's supportive tenor dovetailing nicely with Ron's leads. And while this isn't billed as an "unplugged" set, the arrangements are dominated by acoustic instruments and have the casual, unforced feel of a back porch guitar pull. Like many of Sexsmith's best albums, the surfaces of Destination Unknown are modest enough that they nearly obscure just how strong the craft really is; while there isn't much fuss in the arrangements on these sessions, what's here is balanced with commendable skill, the picking is expert, and the presence of occasional glossy moments such as the string section on "Chasing Forever" suggest this album's low-key approach was guided by aesthetics as much as budget or convenience. And Sexsmith has rarely sounded more comfortable or compelling as a vocalist; these 13 songs are beautifully cast in his own special mold, and he brings them to rich life on these recordings with Kerr's harmonies adding an invaluable assist. Destination Unknown is one of Ron Sexsmith's most straightforward and unadorned albums, and it also happens to be one of his best.

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