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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Canada's Musical Muscle Revealed in Arden, Sexsmith

June 15, 1995|STEVE HOCHMAN

O Canada.

The nation to the north--which in the past gave us Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young--has recently been spitting out singer-songwriter talent again. Two of the newer ones, Jann Arden and Ron Sexsmith, performed at the Troubadour on Tuesday and didn't let the musical Maple Leaf sag.

Of the two, cherubic mop-top Sexsmith--performing both solo and with a sharp, two-piece rhythm section--offered the far more arresting set. His voice is a sort of cross between Jackson Browne fragility and Johnny Ace sweetness, and his melodies and lyrics mix the keen eye of '70s singer-songwriters with the doleful soaring of '50s soul balladeers. The latter aspect was all the more startling for its contrast with his boyish looks and easygoing humor.

In her headlining appearance, Arden was also notable for her voice, a supple and rich instrument. But she favors cliched romantic/spiritual imagery in her songs, which were smothered Tuesday in too-slick arrangements from her studio-perfect five-piece band.

Occasionally she projected a bit of mystery, especially in the hypnotic, personal title track from her recent album, "Living Under June." But none of her own songs came close to matching the irresistible encore: Lulu's great '60s hit "To Sir With Love," an anthem of teen innocence that carries a lot more power than Arden's mature, adult ruminations.

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