For more than his pinchable cheeks, Ron Sexsmith has always been the kid at the adult-alternative cocktail party: He put together his first band at 14 and soon found Elvis Costello clutching his solo debut on the cover of Mojo like a life raft of youthful relevance. While occasionally, talented pups like Ravi’s little Norah inspire a collective “awww,” Sexsmith is ultimately (if only critically) still revered as the Doogie Howser of capital- S Songwriters. So it follows that he emerges from a two-record slump contemplating sand though the hourglass with perspective beyond his 42 years. Here, “time”—in the words of poet William Matthews—”seems, often enough, the nickname for the phrase ‘time left.’ ” If Sexsmith’s night seems “darker than it used to,” as he sings on “I Think We’re Lost,” the twilight holds more wonder than regret, and a reunion with producer Mitchell Froom gives Time Being the elegance and warmth of his early records. He can be wry—on “Jazz at the Bookstore” he quips, “Faint elegance is heard/Now was that Ellington or Bird?”)—or weary, but he’s never bitter. When the White Album–inspired tale of “The Grim Trucker” asks, “Will we wake to wings in heaven?/Or to hooves and snout in our next life?,” Sexsmith answers by whistling a carefree melody, perhaps while strolling past a graveyard.
Ron Sexsmith plays Bowery Ballroom January 12, boweryballroom.com