Ron Sexsmith's musical demeanor seems so typical of the modesty common to his native Canada that the notion of him recording with a handful of Cuban jazz musicians sounds almost freakish. Would Sexsmith melt when he came in contact with the heat of the Latin players, or would he transform them into quiet, contemplative types pondering love and life over coffee and Tim Horton's doughnuts? Sexsmith's tenth album, Exit Strategy of the Soul, was produced by Martin Terefe, who after recording basic tracks got the idea of flying to Cuba to add additional horns and percussion courtesy of arranger Joaquin Betancourt and musicians Amaury Perez (trombone) and Alexander Abreu (trumpet). The results don't sound at all like jazz, but the soulful side that's often lurked under the surface of Sexsmith's music rises to the surface on tunes like "Music to My Ears" and "Last Round"; no, Sexsmith hasn't been transformed into Wilson Pickett, but there is a light R&B accent in these numbers that surprisingly suits him well, and he sounds comfortable and expressive in these surroundings. Sexsmith also collaborated with Leslie Feist on the song "Brandy Alexander," which boasts a gracefully hooky melody to go along with the horns, and even the songs that just feature the songwriter with a studio rhythm section show a warmth and understated passion that peek through the natural reserve of Sexsmith's voice. And for a man who sounded either uncomfortable or painfully shy as a vocalist on his early work, Exit Strategy of the Soul shows Sexsmith has matured into a confident and eloquent performer who sings nearly as well as he writes -- and he's as consistently good a songwriter as you'll find in North America these days. Exit Strategy of the Soul isn't just an experiment that succeeds, it's one of Sexsmith's strongest and most affecting works to date, and it's truly a pleasure to hear.
Exit Strategy of the Soul Review
by Mark Deming