(Soundbite of song, “Never Give Up”)


Is there room today for well-crafted pop songs in this hip-hop world? Well, Ron Sexsmith sure hope so. He's a Canadian singer-songwriter in the tradition of Gordon Lightfoot and Buddy Holly and Ray Davies of the Kinks. His new CD, “Time Being,” debuts today. Ron Sexsmith brought his guitar to a Toronto studio, where he played some of his new songs and talked with music critic Christian Bordal.

(Soundbite of song, “Never Give Up”)

Mr. RON SEXSMITH (Musician, Songwriter): (Singing) Of foolish dreams, I'm done with these. Of childish things, I've set them free.

CHRISTIAN BORDAL: Ron Sexsmith has been called a songwriter's songwriter. Big name artists like Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello are often quoted singing his praises.

Mr. SEXSMITH: I think I'm very compulsive about songwriting. I'm not really good at a lot of things, and so when I found that I could write songs, I thought, wow. Okay, this is how I can make myself useful. You know, and so I try to work on it every day. I try to take it seriously.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SEXSMITH: (Singing) Say for just one thing, there's something that I never do. I never give up on you. Oh, they try to break us in two. You, never give up on you.

BORDAL: In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Sexsmith's clean, pop melodies and thoughtful lyrics might have brought him fame and fortune, but they don't really fit on today's pop charts.

Mr. SEXSMITH: You know, sometimes you're in the studio, and you record a song and you think it sounds like a hit. And then you come out into the light and hear what is on the radio, and you realize, oh, I guess it isn't a hit.

I mean, especially in America, where everything - for quite some time now, it's been kind of groove-based and R&B and hip-hop and all that stuff. So for someone like me, I've always felt a bit square.

(Soundbite of song, “Hands of Time”)

Mr. SEXSMITH: (Singing) Like a fool, I'm reaching out, Lord, through the hands of time…

BORDAL: Sexsmith's latest record is called “Time Being.” And time - the passing of time, what's lost to it - figures in a number of the tracks, including the opener, “Hands of Time,” which he played live for us in the studio.

(Soundbite of song, “Hands of Time”)

Mr. SEXSMITH: (Singing) Though we have this here and now, honey, I wouldn't change a thing. All I know is how I feel when you move your snow-white hand in mine. I'll never hold the hands of time.

Mr. SEXSMITH: Along the way, I'd lost a couple friends - some high school buddies had passed away. And it's so strange, you know. I'm not old or anything, but I'm 42. You know, to be going to funerals for people who are the same age as me, it just makes you kind of hold on to things a little tighter, and time becomes a little sweeter and more precious. And I guess that worked its way into these songs.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SEXSMITH: (Singing) The world is a very hard place. When lost in a crowd…

BORDAL: The ‘60s and ‘70s pop and folk vein has been mined over and over. Sexsmith is one of the few singer/songwriters these days who doesn't sound like he's treading old ground. His clean, honed melodies and reflective, wistful lyrics manage to feel fresh and timeless. But his artistry and abundant critical praise have - at least so far - not resulted in big hits and financial security.

Mr. SEXSMITH: It's funny, you know. I'll be at these award shows like in Canada. I'll be on the red carpet and everything, and then I go back to my rented house in Toronto. It's like Cinderella or something. But I think sometimes the journalists - I read articles about myself where they kind of paint this sort of sad-sack picture, which isn't really the case.

When I was a kid, I dreamed about making records and doing interviews and doing concert tours, and I'm doing all that.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SEXSMITH: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

CHADWICK: Ron Sexsmith's new CD, “Time Being,” is in stores today. His NPR studio session is available at our Web site, npr.org. And our music critic is Christian Bordal, who joins us from member station KCRW in Santa Monica, California.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SEXSMITH: (Singing) Oh, love is a very small word.

CHADWICK: More in a moment on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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