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Breaking into the music scene, or any arts scene, is a young person’s game. It’s a lifestyle of concentrated rejection and perpetual toil – never quite knowing when or if you’ll “make it”. But Ron Sexsmith is a journeyman.
Sexsmith has lived the lifestyle of an under the radar indie-folk artist into his 40’s. For the better of his twenty years as an artist he has remained anonymous to most beyond the underground Canadian folk community. But in 2010, he was the subject of the acclaimed documentary Love Shines from director Douglas Arrowsmith. The documentary follows Sexsmith as he tries to turn his niche following into mainstream success while recording his album Long Player Late Bloomer with famed producer Bob Rock. The documentary was met with great praise and helped bring Sexsmith to mainstream attention. Then 46 and now 49, Sexsmith has found his songs being covered by Michael Bublé, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Sheryl Crow, Feist, Rod Stewart, and many other artists. In the years since, Ron Sexsmith has recorded and performed with many of these artists all over the world and he won Songwriter of The Year at the 2011 Juno Awards for his song “Whatever It Takes.” Forever Endeavor is Sexmith’s thirteenth album and truly marks a chapter in this emblematic journey of an independent folk artist.
The first track of Sexsmith’s album was the tune “Nowhere To Go” – my favorite from this album. The song starts with a simple but elegant phrase on the guitar repeated twice. Then, in comes a gentle but regal trumpet. Slow and accentuated – very reminiscent of the opening guitar and trumpet phrase in the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” The song gives the audience a sense of what’s to come for the rest of the album – sixteen tracks woven together to tell the story of an artist in his midlife, reflecting on the passage of time. Then, the lyricism of a twenty-first century Gordon Lightfoot with the vocal acrobatics of Jeff Buckley. Also reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot is Sexsmith’s aptitude for string arrangements behind his songs. Perhaps this credit goes to producer Mitchell Froom. In any event, string arrangements accompany many of the songs on in a subtle and complimentary way.
Another track worth giving a listen to is “Me, Myself, and Wine.” After masquerading as a catchy drunkard’s romp about imbibing to escape the troubles of a woman, the song turns into a story about coming to terms with yourself through time alone. The piece features jazz trombone and trumpet phrase straight out of New Orleans. Perfectly emoting a man alone with a bottle and his thoughts. In this vein, we know that Sexsmith had his share of less than reputable years on the road when he introduces another track worth a listen.
When Sexsmith played the song “Snake Road” for a live audience he introduced it saying that the song is “about a lot of bad behavior that went on in my 30’s and all the cliché things you do when you’re on the road and trying to behave myself is basically what it’s about. Behaving yourself while Satan is comin on down the road.” True to his intro, the song follows a young man avoiding the easier road in favor of the honorable one. Not to mention, an irresistibly groovy guitar riff, steady kick drum phrase, and melodic melody make this song a head-bobbing gem on this album.
Before he was writing his own songs, Sexsmith was playing at a bar in Ontario named the Lion’s Tavern. There he earned the nick name The One-Man Jukebox for his aptitude for playing audience requests. This album showcases Sexsmith’s ability to channel storytellers and how it’s clearly imparted to him the means to tell his own. In 1985, after his first child was born, Sexsmith starting writing and performing original songs. He’s been telling his own story ever since and this album says he’s not stopping anytime soon.