Radio formats are inevitably onerous, because they're always built on the assumption that people are nothing more than demographic clichés who listen to only one form (or one era) of music.
That being said, if the so-called "adult-alternative" format applies to any one artist, that artist is Ron Sexsmith. A thoughtful, open-hearted singer-songwriter, Sexsmith simply doesn't fit anywhere else. His concerns are too adult, his tone too measured, for him to have much youth appeal. At the same time, he's too dark and brooding to reach baby boomers who want their new music to cheerfully recycle their favorite classic-rock epiphanies.
Sexsmith specializes in a kind of existential pop: bright and tuneful on the surface, with melancholic underpinnings. Retriever, his seventh album, is in the same mold as overlooked classics such as 1997's Other Songs and its 1999 follow-up Whereabouts. Sexsmith doesn't dazzle you with flash or bowl you over with bold experimentation. He simply connects, time and again, with carefully crafted vignettes that reflect the man's innate humility and compassion.
Sexsmith isn't blind to the malignant forces in our culture, as he demonstrates with the social critiques of "Imaginary Friends" and "From Now On." But he's mature enough to appreciate what he's got, and to recognize that he can't make it through this world alone. In an era of shamelessly cynical pop juveniles, Sexsmith is giving adulthood a good name. •