Ron Sexsmith maps the human heart with surgical skill and great compassion. He offers us hard-earned pieces of wisdom, all set to strong yet gentle melodies and sung unaffectedly, with emotional eloquence and genuine soul. These are his creative signatures, and they have earned the Toronto-based singer/songwriter immense respect from his peers, critics, and a devoted international audience.
These assets are vividly displayed on Time Being, the latest addition to a formidable catalogue. The Toronto Star recently noted that "Ron Sexsmith has produced a body of quality work that's unequalled in contemporary Canadian music in originality and musical daring." It is no stretch to extend that statement into the international arena, as a vast number of Ron's peers would agree.
Time Being marks a happy creative reunion with ace American producer Mitchell Froom (Elvis Costello, Crowded House, Suzanne Vega, Paul McCartney). He has played a pivotal role in Sexsmith's career, producing Ron's first three major label albums and offering valuable advice ever since. Their empathy and trust made for a smooth recording process. "It really felt like we hadn't stopped or taken time away from each other," recalls Ron. "I've kept in touch with Mitchell with every record I'd made since, and now I felt I was more on level ground with him."
Froom assembled some of L.A.'s best players to frame Ron's songs with subtle and sympathetic accompaniment. They include Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello's longtime drummer and a previous Sexsmith sideman), bassist Davey Faragher (Costello, John Hiatt), and guitarist Val McCallum (Jackson Browne, Sheryl Crow), with Mitchell himself adding keyboards. "Those are some pretty serious musicians there," says Ron. "Whenever there was a problem, there was a lot of on the spot troubleshooting and adjusting their parts."
Problems were rare, thanks to the pre-production work of Ron and Mitchell. "We spent a week on that, then went into the studio. We'd try to get one song done every day, and usually within three or four takes, we'd have something that was workable. I was actually a little concerned that it was going so well.", laughs Ron.
The result is another sparkling collection of songs that range in tone from sad to surreal, melancholy to magical. Time Being is destined to delight both longtime Sexsmith fans and those that have come to the party more recently. Ron's 2004 album, Retriever, marked a major breakthrough for him at Canadian radio, with the tracks "Whatever It Takes" and "Not About To Lose" making a real impact on adult contemporary formats. His material continues to receive solid airplay on the CBC and college radio here, on National Public Radio stations in the U.S., and on the BBC in England.
The strength of his songwriting is such that Sexsmith tunes have been covered by artists from genres as diverse as classical (The Brodsky Quartet, Anne Sofie von Otter), Celtic (Mary Black), rock and pop (Rod Stewart, Feist, kd lang, Nick Lowe). Their covers have helped Ron sustain a prolific career.
"I've always been a bit under the radar so I'm amazed that I've been able to keep making records and to build on what I guess you could call a cult following," he observes. "That seems to grow with each record, so the tortoise approach of slow and steady suits me."
Ron Sexsmith has so many celebrity endorsers that even Nike are envious. All without any money changing hands either. Check this out for just a partial list: Paul McCartney, Elton John, Elvis Costello, Steve Earle (who produced Ron's 2001 album, Blue Boy), Sheryl Crow, John Hiatt, Bono, John Prine, Radiohead, and Chris Martin (who asked Ron to open many Coldplay tours and dueted on the track "Gold In Them Hills").
Costello is given credit by Ron as "the man most responsible for getting my first album released overseas. He held it up on the cover of [English music mag] Mojo, calling it his favourite record of 1995, and that generated a lot of interest internationally. He continues to be very supportive, sending me detailed production notes on all of these new songs."
On the Canadian front, major admirers of Ron's artistry include Diana Krall, kd lang, Gord Downie, Feist, Andy Kim, Sarah McLachlan, Daniel Lanois, and many more. They've all shown their respect by covering his songs, inviting him on tour, or collaborating in some way.
When a pre-release party for Time Being was held in Halifax over the recent Juno weekend, those lining up to sing their favourite Sexsmith songs included Matt Mays, Dallas Green (Alexisonfire), Jim Cuddy, Allan Doyle and Bob Hallett (Great Big Sea), Damnhait Doyle and Kim Stockwood (Shaye), Tomi Swick, and Bubbles (of Trailer Park Boys fame).
A multiple Juno nominee over the past decade, Sexsmith has taken home trophies in 1998 (Roots & Traditional Album of the Year for Other Songs) and 2004 (the much-coveted Songwriter of the Year Juno for songs from Retriever). Ron received two more nominations in 2006, for Roots & Traditional album of the Year and Songwriter of the Year for Destination Unknown, the much-praised collaboration with longtime musical comrade Don Kerr. He also played a key part in the Juno-winning World Music Album of the Year, Humo De Tabaco, from the Alex Cuba Band. Ron added guest vocals to the track "Lo Mismo Que You (If Only)," a song that became a U.K. hit.
Ron Sexsmith is not driven by a lust for awards, critical acclaim and peer respect. His passion is to keep writing better songs. "Sometimes you hear someone say all the great songs have been written, but it is amazing what can be done with a limited amount of chords and notes. The challenge is to find a melody you can call your own and a fresh point of view on an old theme."
That noble quest is one he is pursuing with true commitment. For the Time Being, the swelling legion of Ron Sexsmith fans can luxuriate in the warm embrace of another lovely album. There'll be more coming soon!