Toronto singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith has often been compared to '60s folkie Tim Hardin and Kinks frontman Ray Davies, but he also sounds like a becalmed current of '70s new wave. Sexsmith's third album, "Whereabouts," suggests the songs of a less clever Elvis Costello sung by David Byrne in his most earnest mode. The album's closing tune, "Every Passing Day," laments "the dumming down and the talk shows," but Sexsmith's lyrics aren't always so smart. "I sure could use your love/ Right about now," goes one flat refrain, and "Riverbed" actually finds the despondent singer "underneath the weeping willow."
Fortunately, producers Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake have given "Whereabouts" a richer, more engaging sound than its predecessors. The tempos of Sexsmith's songs range only from sort-of-slow to almost-upbeat, but many of them have catchy melodies that benefit from Froom and Blake's treatment. Such moderately brisk tunes as "Every Passing Day" and "Idiot Boy" have a full but not overstuffed sound, while quieter ones like "In a Flash" feature subtle but essential instrumental counterpoint. Sexsmith's voice and guitar are more dependable than his words, but "Whereabouts" puts all his talents in the best light.
Appearing Friday at the Metro Cafe with Kendall Payne. To hear a free Sound Bite from Ron Sexsmith, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8126. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)