When it comes to sensitive singer-songwriters, I generally subscribe to the thinking of cult obscurity Tonio K., who in 1979 wrote, "Yes, I wish I was as mellow/As, for instance, Jackson Browne/But 'Fountain of Sorrow' my ass, motherfucker/I hope you wind up in the ground." Nonetheless, there's still a place in the world for sonic sincerity -- if, that is, it's delivered with steady intelligence by a performer who's able to dig deeper than his own navel. Sexsmith and Mead, both of whom have new CDs out on the Nettwerk imprint, regularly meet this standard. Sexsmith's lush and poignant offering, Retriever, finds the veteran melodicist picking at scabs with typical diligence. For instance, he sandwiches a pair of swooningly romantic airs, "Not About to Lose" and "Tomorrow in Her Eyes," between "Imaginary Friend," in which even a made-up companion fails to come through, and "For the Driver," a composition that empathizes with a guy who accidentally runs over a child who's dashed into the street. As for Mead, his evocative new disc, Indiana, is named for a country-tinged narrative about being stuck "in the middle of nowhere/Population of one." Despite its saucy title, "Bucket of Girls" gives off an occasionally melancholy vibe, too, albeit one far removed from "Fountain of Sorrow." Rest easy, Tonio.
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