* * * 1/2
After two marvelously crafted albums that earned the praise of such celebrated tunesmiths as Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney, this Canadian singer-songwriter seemed to lose both his ambition and his spirit on 1999's "Whereabouts," his third album for powerhouse Interscope Records.
Resurfacing with a new label, Sexsmith regains both of the missing elements. As before, his best work combines the lyrical sophistication of Costello and the intimacy and detail of John Prine.
The added attraction on "Blue Boy" (in stores Tuesday) is a more varied and spunky musical setting than on the earlier collections. With the support of producers Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy, Sexsmith moves from the bluesy, neo-Bacharach supper-club sensibilities of "Fool Proof" to the roadhouse bounce of "Not Too Big" to the country-accented shuffle of "This Song"--a bitter reflection, apparently drawn from his experiences in the record business, that includes the lines, "I came unarmed, they've all got knives/How can this song survive?"
But Sexsmith (who plays the Troubadour June 21) has more on his mind than the trials of the music biz. In such songs as "Tell Me Again" and "Fallen," he writes about the wonders of love with the tenderness and joy of a man whose life has been blessed.
Though writing is his forte, Sexsmith's delicate singing adds to the sense of longing and comfort in the songs. It's a potent combination, and although he doesn't connect on every tune, it's reassuring to see him rounding into top form again.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.