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POP MUSIC | RECORD RACK

A Delightful Stroll With Ron Sexsmith

**** RON SEXSMITH "Other Songs" Interscope

June 15, 1997|Robert Hilburn

There were half a dozen extremely moving songs on this folk-accented singer-songwriter's 1995 Interscope debut album. You wouldn't expect that much gentle grace to surface anywhere in a calendar year, much less on the same collection.

This time, Sexsmith--whose vocals suggest the quivering intimacy of the late Tim Hardin and whose melodies carry the caress of a summer breeze--delivers an even more consistent and ambitious set of tunes.

For the most part, the Canadian, who plays the Troubadour on July 10, injects his tales of longing and need with modest, understated delights. He allows you to discover the character and detail in the songs much the way you do the charm of hidden side-streets that you stumble upon during a European vacation.

"Thinking Out Loud,"a self-questioning look at a troubled relationship, has a melody as sweet and comforting as a lullaby. "Average Joe," with its surprising, Brian Wilson-ish pop falsetto flavor, sounds at the beginning like another tale about the loneliness of the road, but evolves nicely into a feel-good tale of family and home.

The gem that shows why Elvis Costello has become such a big Sexsmith supporter is "April After All." It's a warmly philosophical tune about hard times that, like some of Costello's own best work, contains a line worthy of a Sinatra vocal: But there'll be other days / And things will turn our way / The rain has got to fall / It's April after all.

There are enough highlights in this splendid, 14-song package to fill a healthy percentage of the selections on any "best of" 1997 singer-songwriter showcase you could put together. Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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