"Destination Unknown"

RonBoy Rhymes

As Ron Sexsmith was writing his usual songs of doubt and melody for last year's album, "Retriever," he was simultaneously writing a group of songs with a sunnier brand of optimism and melody. In fact, this second batch of songs -- marked by an economy of language and a potential for harmony -- reminded him of the 1950s duet records by the Louvin Brothers and the Everly Brothers. Sexsmith had often sung those old songs with Don Kerr, the longtime drummer and cellist in his touring band, and decided to record these similar new songs with Kerr.

The result is "Destination Unknown," the new album credited to Sexsmith & Kerr. Two voices and two acoustic guitars dominate the foreground, while the background is subtly filled with minimalist touches of acoustic bass, percussion, cello, mandolin and keyboards. These arrangements clear the stage for some brilliant close-harmony singing, but neither Sexsmith nor Kerr have the command of pitch and tone to pull it off.

It's too bad, for many of these 13 songs recall the singalong tunes and the unironic faith and hope of the Carter Family songbook. "I have a choice to condemn life or rejoice," Sexsmith sings in the opening track, "Listen"; "I think I'll rejoice." Whether he's praising a kid's "Lemonade Stand" as the one genuine endeavor in our "cardboard neighborhoods," or he's claiming that it's so nice living on a "Tree-Lined Street," Sexsmith is willing to approach -- and sometimes cross -- the boundary of corny sentiment to celebrate the positive aspects of life.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Thursday at Jammin' Java.