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January 9 was a day of contrasts for singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith. Mere hours before an evening-ending show at a small club in Hoboken, New Jersey, he co-starred on an episode of Conan O'Brien's NBC chat program with pompadoured troglodyte Donald Trump. "I didn't get to meet him," the ultra-polite Canuck says of the Donald. "He was on and then left right away afterwards. But I think we did okay. I never like the way I look on TV, but I think we sounded all right."
That's no surprise. Sexsmith has long been a tunesmith's tunesmith; Coldplay's Chris Martin, who dueted with him on 2002's "Gold in Them Hills," and Paul McCartney are among his many celebrity admirers. Nevertheless, the three CDs Sexsmith made for the mammoth Interscope imprint between 1995 and 1999 were hardly commercial blockbusters, and four subsequent albums issued by three smaller firms also failed to sell in sizable numbers. As a result, Sexsmith had a difficult time lining up U.S. concerns interested in putting out his latest disc, Time Being. "We got a lot of people saying, ŒWe love Ron, but we're not signing anyone over 25,'" he recalls.
Thank goodness for 24 action hero Kiefer Sutherland. He's such a devoted music enthusiast that he volunteered to serve as tour manager for Rocco DeLuca & the Burden, a chore documented in the recent film I Trust You to Kill Me. Among his other side projects is Ironworks Music, a partnership with solo artist Jude Cole, and the two chose Time Being to be the company's second release. Sexsmith finally met Sutherland a few weeks ago in Los Angeles, "and he was everything I expected," he says. "He was really sweet -- he's from Canada, and Canadians tend to take that with them -- and down-to-earth. And he likes the album."
As well he should. Several songs on the Mitchell Froom-produced disc, including the deeply felt tracks "And Now the Day Is Done" and "Hands of Time," were written after Sexsmith learned that two of his closest high school friends had died; one was a quadriplegic who passed away following a heart attack, while the other took his own life. But there's also lighter fare, such as the cool, insinuating "Jazz at the Bookstore," and "The Grim Trucker," an amusingly offbeat meditation on morality that wonders if slaughterhouse-bound pigs will eventually wind up in heaven.
Sexsmith's career has often fallen short of nirvana, which may explain why neither his daughter nor his son, who are 17 and 21, respectively, are interested in becoming professional musicians. "I've been away so much, and it's not like they were home in a mansion with a swimming pool," he notes. Still, he adds, "I've been really lucky. I've always worked hard, and I've managed to keep myself going all these years."
With a little help from famous fans.