Story and Photos By Andy ArgyrakisThe two names may ring a bell, but they're not nearly as circulated as say John Mayer, Howie Day, David Gray and Gavin DeGraw. And it's a shame really, because both Toronto's Ron Sexsmith and Nashville's David Mead are a lot more talented, less gimmicky and less likely to incite a round of screams from pre-pubescent girls. The pair, who both just released new albums on Nettwerk America, hardly looks like rock stars either. Sexsmith is a pudgy carrot-topped type who's eyes usually scan the ground rather than the crowd and Mead is a friendly but slightly awkward fellow with a puff of brown hair who sports old sport coats over printed T-shirts.
Still the duo's double bill at a near capacity Schubas was what the future of acoustic music should become, though ironically, both have been making the rounds for several years. Sexsmith has gone through a series of record deals, compilation spots and movie soundtrack appearances throughout the '90s, though his latest Retriever is by far receiving the most acclaimed. It's easy to see why given his concert presentation that melded the songwriting sensibilities of a non-angry Elvis Costello and non-'80s Paul McCartney, but with a wry humor that was individualistic.
The troubadour kicked off his show with the somber strum of "Hard Bargain," which with the accompaniment of his backing band melded an earthly love letter with a candid call out to God. Like the sequence of his newest and seventh overall record, "Imaginary Friends" followed, pointing fingers at all those wannabe cool cats who try to make friends so gallantly only to find that most of won't be around when the party isn't hearty. What Sexsmith lacked in performance magnetism he made up in poetic delicacy, such as the travel tale "Cheap Hotel," an analysis of "Happiness" and the hushed anxiety of "Don't Ask Why." Along with the colorful trot of "Right About Now" and the resplendent finale "I Know It Well," Sexsmith showcased smart songwriting steeped in melody that provided instant sentimentality.
Fellow strummer David Mead experienced a similar go at the major leagues (he was dropped by RCA after two discs) but has continued bearing his soul in sparse but emotive contexts. His latest offering Indiana (featured nearly in its entirety) is loaded with road reports, such as the hometown homage paying "Nashville," the half way driving point from New York to Music City "Indiana" and the cowboy influenced "New Mexico." Additional observations, like the minor 1999 hit "World of a King" and the bleeding heart "Only a Girl" evoked the glory days of Crowded House or Squeeze, yet were updated within current contexts.
Unfortunately, Mead had a hard time dealing with a broken guitar string prior to "Comfort" and he did loose a bit of momentum for the next few songs, although he bounced back with an unexpected cover of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" to close the set. It may have incited a round of laughs at the beginning, but as he settled into the recognizable verses and chorus, it couldn't help recall a happier time for The King of Pop - before he went from black to white, dangled babies over balconies and had highly publicized "sleepovers." Hopefully such ingenuity on Mead's part during that moment and his many other crests will, like Sexsmith, start earning the attention it deserves.
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