Hermitage (Ronby Rhymes/Cooking Vinyl)
I don’t think this happened but I wouldn’t rule it out completely that I first heard Spring Of The Following Year, the opening song here, in a film being sung by a man in a tuxedo (looking suspiciously like Kevin Kline) seated at the piano in the corner of a well appointed drawing room of a fine house.
The equally well dressed “audience”, well fed on fine beef and then a delicious sweet, had broken out the port and sherry and quietly hummed along to a song which evoked memories for them of running down the long halls chasing a ball into the yard, and later sitting out there thinking of their first sunny waves of teenage love.
However, I am beyond certain that Chateau Mermaid, which follows, existed well before this record, made for exactly that kind of dappled sunlight afternoon -“Welcome to Chateau Mermaid/Where your day’s unhurried/No shadow by a cloud of worry/Where the wine flows all day.” - and this time it was sung by a tanned woman in loose linen (looking suspiciously like Carole King) whose tall glass sits next to a hand-rolled herbal cigarette.
It doesn’t need the jaunty roll and faint whiff of Cajun cooking of Lo And Behold, a song that the squeezebox was created for, or the wistful, elegant dance of Glow In The Dark Stars, a song that might redefine cheek-to-cheek, to make the case that we’re in a timeless zone here.
I mean, come on, a chap called Ronald Eldon Sexsmith positively screams gentleman writer and bon vivant with a romantic streak a mile wide, amirite?
Hermitage, in keeping with its title, feels part collection of classic artefacts and part exactly the kind of place to escape to when other elements of this shitty time overwhelm. And for those keeping score at home, this is one of Ron’s happier collections. A man with an almost unparalleled ability to crush you with a sad song, even when he’s feeling ok (it’s that voice you know), his ability for spirit-bolstering upmoods is undervalued.
Those four songs already mentioned cast a hazy golden light over the songs which follow. Take the mix of Paul McCartney and Smokey Robinson in Small Minded World (“I don’t feel sad, I don’t get mad about the small-minded world”) that is the hug of affirmation we’re all craving right now. Or how You Don’t Wanna Hear It merges a creamy all-suited vocal group with a nicely razored guitar and just-visible strings to make the admonitions so much more palatable.
Even Whatever Shape Your Heart Is In, a song much like Spring Of The Following Year that feels as if it was probably first sung 70-80 years ago, this time with chap having loosened his bow tie and brought a Manhattan to hand, still brings a degree of shared comfort.
By the time Is It Or Isn’t It recasts doo wop in a way that puts you on a street corner snapping your fingers and pushing back your oiled locks (and, to be fair, has you wondering if you really should have cursed Billy Joel so much over the years for Uptown Girl etc) nothing is going to bring you down.
So much so that Morning Town, a Tapestry-style rumination of delicacy and soul for an afternoon gazing out an upper window, and Think Of You Fondly, a song of love now gone which is a pure Sexsmith sigh-and-whisper melody given a church choral partner, finish the album not with a tear but a little upturn of your chin, a nod of certainty that you’ll be ok, and the salutation “should you ever think of me some time, may all the memories rhyme”.
The curse of Sexsmith – no, not a Conan Doyle mystery – is that he keeps writing such excellent songs that people like me run out of ways of saying Ron Sexsmith writes great songs that you must have in your life. But he does. And you should.