Ron Sexsmith Sings “Radio”

Listen to this track by self-professed old-school singer-songwriter and AM radio fan from way back Ron Sexsmith. It’s “Radio”, the first single off of his 2017 record The Last Rider. 

The album was the first record cut with his long-time touring band playing all the parts in an expectedly musically simpatico manner. This includes drummer and singer Don Kerr, with whom Sexsmith also produced the record on the shores of Lake Ontario at The Bathhouse in Kingston, Ontario. This is a bona-fide homegrown album in many respects, then.

Maybe that’s why the album sounds so warm and contented with Bill Withers meets Gordon Lightfoot meets The Kinks textures a-plenty. Sexsmith is known for those kinds of textures and moods through out his incredibly consistent discography. Yet on many of his releases this decade, some of his disdain for recent industry trends and his frustrations with the increasingly complicated game of putting out music in the way he wants to has definitely seeped into his optimism-under-pressure songwriting worldview.

Representing some of that soft-spoken ire is this song, “Radio”. On the surface, this song really does seem of the “things just ain’t what they used to be” variety that finds the narrator scratching his head as the clowns take over the circus and as the show becomes run of the mill. Yet here beneath what seems to be a complaint about the state of the world, there’s greater dimension to be found. Read more

Ron Sexsmith Sings “The Idiot Boy”

ron-sexsmith-whereaboutsListen to this track by St. Catharines Ontario-born singer-songwriter and teller of tales Ron Sexsmith. It’s “The Idiot Boy”, a deep cut as taken from his 1999 album Whereabouts, his third record.  The song traces the history of humankind itself through a distinctly Biblical lens, tongue firmly in cheek. In it, the titular central character is not so much a hero in his own story, but more like his own stumbling block. This is very much in keeping with the whole record.

Whereabouts is a pretty overcast album, full of self-doubt and struggle. On it, Sexsmith seems to live up to his (not ultimately accurate) reputation as a perpetually glum songwriter, with his rainy-day voice not entirely helping to dissuade the casual listener any differently. It was therefore hard for that same casual listener to see the humour in the lyrics, an angle that has also been a part of Sexsmith’s approach. There’s more to this song than what first might be perceived.

Even while “The Idiot Boy” reflects his views on human history, it’s also perhaps a reflection of the songwriter’s own state of being. Read more

Ron Sexsmith Sings “Saint Bernard”

Ron Sexsmith Carousel OneListen to this track by supposed melancholic singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith. It’s “Saint Bernard”, the lead single from his most recent record Carousel One, to be released next week in the United States and in Canada.

The new record is the follow up to 2013’s Forever Endeavour, which was kind of like the Sunday morning album from his Saturday night-before flirtation with a wider audience as depicted in the 2010 documentary Love Shines and the associated album Long Player, Late Bloomer. Both of those records helped to bring Sexsmith out of what he considered to be a career funk in terms of sales and exposure, although much of their content framed that sense of struggle that his career was getting away from him.

Often pegged as a melancholic songwriter (incorrectly, in my view), these albums seemed to confirm him as one who deals in the bigger questions in life, the weighty themes that humanity has always wrestled with; the nature of success, of happiness, and an ever-present sense of mortality that presides over our lives. I suppose it makes sense that critics have pigeonholed him in the sombre section of their inner record collections after hearing these two albums from him, even if the songs themselves never sound as weighty as the themes with which they deal.

But, this single cracks all of that open, and shows a side of Ron Sexsmith that isn’t quite as available on the F-keys of most rock journalists’ laptops. Read more

Ron Sexsmith Sings “Nowhere To Go”

Ron Sexsmith
Photo by Michael D’Amico

Here’s a clip featuring Canadian national treasure and songwriting savant from St. Catharines Ontario Ron Sexsmith. It’s “Nowhere To Go”, the opening track to this year’s Forever Endeavour, the follow up to his career-high success in 2011’s Long Player Late Bloomer.

This song is something of a bridge between the two records, in that it explores territory that Sexsmith took on head-first while working up that earlier record. It was during that earlier period that his hopes to be heard by more people, while struggling with the feeling that he wasn’t really getting anywhere, were at their strongest. Discouragement had been nipping at his artistic heels.

It’s not like Sexsmith was an unknown at the time. It’s not as if he is now unaware of how loyal his “Ronhead” fans have been through out his career, nor is he unaware that his own peers, and a great many of his heroes too, hold him in high esteem. During Sexsmith’s efforts at building a body of work, the fame game had become an even more complicated treacherous labyrinth than it ever was. Raw talent and artistry had become something very often sidelined in favour of other more measurable (read: more immediately marketable) forces. And it started out to be predatory in this way to begin with, not suffering fools or introverts gladly.

So, where is this song coming from in the light of that? Read more

Ron Sexsmith Sings “Strawberry Blonde”

Here’s a clip featuring singer-songwriter with an eye for three-dimensional characters as well as get-in-your-head melodies, Ron Sexsmith. It’s “Strawberry Blonde” as taken from 1997’s modestly-titled Other Songs, Sexsmith’s second album. It’s a tale of childhood trauma, yet with many emotional currents that give it tremendous substance; regret, nostalgia, pathos, grief.

This tune, now a popular live staple for Sexsmith, would be an indication of a few things where Sexsmith the writer is concerned. First, it proves that his musical well is a deep one, maintaining his level of quality established on his excellent, and critically lauded self-titled debut.

Second, it proves that Sexsmith is something of a throwback as a songwriter, back to the times when songs were about something, with this particular track being among one of the best examples. Like many songwriters cut from similar cloth, Ron Sexsmith touches upon a range of human experience in his work. But, he’s better able than many to embody those experiences in the lives of people in his songs. We care about the little girl “Amanda” because she has a life of her own in his song. And perhaps, we care about her because we’ve known people in our lives like her.

So, where did Amanda come from? Read more

Ron Sexsmith & The Uncool Play “Don’t Mind Losing”

Listen to this track by St. Catharines Ontario favourite son and effortlessly awesome singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith, with his former collective known as The Uncool – Steve Charles on bass, and Don Kerr on drums and backing vocals. It’s “Don’t Mind Losing”, a jubilant Moondance-era Van The Man style acoustic soul-pop gem as taken from his 1991 independently released album Grand Opera Lane.

The song, and the album off of which it comes exists as something of a prequel to his major label debut Ron Sexsmith in 1995. You can hear the decidedly different tone and approach to presentation and style characterized by more overt soul and rockabilly references.

Ron Sexsmith had spent some time living in rural Quebec, letting his dream of becoming a songwriter steep while mapping out how he was going to pay for his life in the meantime. While working out how to bring his talent to the table of the music industry, he had a wife and newborn son in tow, with a daughter soon to join them by the end of the 1980s. So, in returning to St Catharines, and then to Toronto, he had to secure a day job as a courier, wondering if his real calling as a songwriter and musician would ever really come to fruition.

It’s a pretty common tale, many versions of which we’ll never get to hear from songwriters who never found their path.

With that in mind, never has a song about feeling set upon by circumstance and existential despair sounded so bright and bouncy, gleaming with horns, a seriously groovy bassline, and ecstatic backing vocals.  But, in all of that aural joy, where does it connect with where Sexsmith was going as a professional musician?

Read more

Interview With Ron Sexsmith Post Love Shines

Over the last few weeks here at the Delete Bin, some of you have read a couple of pieces about Ron Sexsmith, and about the movie Love Shines, which is in part about his latest record Long Player Late Bloomer.

I wrote a review of the film Love Shines.

I even ran a Ron Sexsmith Love Shines contest that sent two of my commenters for drinks and a chat with Ron, and Love Shines director Douglas Arrowsmith.

Today is the third installment in the Long Player Late Bloomer/Love Shines Ron Sexsmith trilogy here on the Delete Bin, and a great honour it is to present it to you here: the Ron Sexsmith interview.

I asked him about the movie, and what he thought of its central character. I asked him about mainstream success, and about some of his heroes who have also been at the center of recent films  contemporary to this one. And of course, I asked him about fan support, and how he sees the future unfolding for himself as a songwriter and performer, post-biopic.

It’s a big thrill for me to have had the chance to do it, given that Ron is nothing short of one of my favourite songwriters of all time. And Ron himself was very generous with his time and his responses, given that (at the time of this writing) he’s on tour, and about to play the Rio Theatre here in Vancouver.

Here is that interview, conducted via email a few days before the show.

*** Read more

Ron Sexsmith Sings “Believe It When I See It” Featured in the Film “Love Shines”

Listen to this track by supernaturally gifted and underappreciated in his own time singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith. It’s “Believe It When I See It”, the third track as taken from his most recent album, Long Player Late Bloomer.

This album was produced by Bob Rock, a man with a track record for mainstream success, a fellow Canadian, and a key player in the drama that unfolds in Douglas Arrowsmith’s documentary Love Shines, which is in part about the making of the record.  The film debuted here in Vancouver at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2010, and was more recently broadcast in the UK on BBC4 to a receptive audience there. But, the film is also set to debut in a few days, March 15 to be exact, at SXSW.

In addition to being about the making of the record, the film is also about Sexsmith; his talent, his impression on other musicians who admire him, and his own history as a musician. But, it’s also about  Sexsmith’s seeming inability to reach a wider audience, and the resultant seeds of doubt that have plagued him as a result despite his incredibly consistent output as an artist.

This song seems to betray these feelings of doubt, with “believe it when I see it” being a sentiment that might easily be applied to Sexsmith’s goal of wider success.What comes out in the film is that his chances have very little, if anything, to do with his ability as a songwriter. Artists like Elvis Costello, Feist, Steve Earle, and Daniel Lanois all chime in about his unique and inspirational talent as a writer and deliverer of the kinds of songs that every songwriter wished they’d written.  Read more

Sexsmith & Kerr Perform ‘Listen’

Here’s a clip of songwriting savant Ron Sexsmith and former Rheostatic and first string sessioner and touring musician Don Kerr.  It’s the rootsy and close harmony-inclined ‘Listen’ as taken from the duo’s 2005 collaborative album Destination Unknown, a record geared toward their penchant for the music of the brothers Everly and Stanley.

Destination_Unknown_(Ron_Sexsmith_album)_coverartBy the end of Sexsmith’s writing, and touring, his Retriever album, he had a number of songs leftover that suggested a different tone than those on that record.  One of the musicians accompanying Sexsmith on that tour was Don Kerr, former drummer of The Rheostatics, and a cellist and second guitarist to boot while in Sexsmith’s band.

Among his other talents as a multi-instrumentalist, Kerr’s tenor voice was a welcome blend when it came to harmony vocals. And thus was this project born; a collection of accoustically arranged folk-pop songs with country and baroque overtones – Destination Unknown. Besides the deliberate folksy approach with countrified close harmonies, and back porch feel, the tone of the songs are still in line with Sexsmith’s general outlook and approach when it comes to songwriting.

With this tune, ‘Listen’, actually the record’s opener, the song is about choosing a positive path, while acknowledging the sometimes-unfriendly nature of existence.  The key line here is ‘to condemn life or rejoice; I think I’ll choose rejoicing’, a firm answer to the Shakespearean ‘to be or not to be’ angst faced by all of us, and dealt with with varying degrees of success by modern songwriters.

And once again, we see Sexsmith’s genius; an ability to write a positive song without simplifying or trivializing the reasons why suffering is such a burden to human experience.  Well, that and an ability to effortlessly write songs that stick in your head.   This is a prime example of Blake’s idea of innocence and experience, not as two duelling poles, but as two points of view that co-exist as we wander our path through life.  Sometimes, we are informed more by one than we are by the other. But, in the best of times, we can acknowledge both, when we listen.

For more about Ron Sexsmith, check out the official Ron Sexsmith site.

And if your looking for solo material by Don Kerr, you can hear his latest efforts on the Don Kerr MySpace page.


Ron Sexsmith Sings ‘The Grim Trucker’

ron-sexsmith-time-beingListen to this track by one of my country’s greatest musical assets, Ron Sexsmith. It’s “The Grim Trucker, a deep cut from his 2006 album Time Being.

Ron Sexsmith is one of my favourite artists, seemingly gifted with a knack for songwriting that makes every album of his worth exploring.   A lot of the time, his stuff is about the mysterious nature of our lives, and little observations that lend meaning to it as we travel along our respective roads.  Yet here with this song, Sexsmith deals with these same themes through the images of pigs going down the hill, the sleepy-eyed little children being bussed off to school, and the titular and mysterious Grim Trucker, who may or may not be death.  This is an oddity of a song, perhaps because Sexsmith takes such a lighthearted approach to such weighty subject matter.

I like too that this song rocks out a bit, with lots of the Harry Nilsson textures that fans expect of Sexsmith, albeit this time with some pretty heavy White Album-Beatles overtones as well.  Sexsmith would continue a trajectory of top notch pop rock on his subsequent, and excellent, Exit Strategy of the Soul, on which he would add horns, and some jazzier flavours as well, plus a co-write with Feist in the hit “Brandy Alexander” which is also featured on Feist’s The Reminder.

Yet this album boasts a harder edged side of Sexsmith’s writing in this tune, kind of a psychedelic song about death full of absurdist, funny lyrics about pigs, police stations, and the possibility of an afterlife.

For more music from Ron Sexsmith, I’d advise you hasten to Ron Sexsmith’s site.