Canadian singer/songwriter legend:
+ support Lori Cullen
Ron Sexsmithís status as one of the greatest songwriters of his generation has never been in doubt, even from the moment he released his self-titled major-label debut album in 1995. His career arc since then has in some ways been a study in how that pure ability has been handled in the studio. On his 12 albums, Sexsmith has worked with some of musicís most celebrated producersóDaniel Lanois, Mitchell Froom, Tchad Blake, Ray Kennedy, Martin Terefe, Bob Rock and Jim Scott. With all of that experience, it would stand to reason that Sexsmith has learned a thing or two over the years about how to make a record.
That thought indeed struck him as the Toronto-based Sexsmith prepared to make his thirteenth solo album, The Last Rider, where for the first time he, in tandem with his longtime collaborator Don Kerr, has taken matters into his own hands as a producer. For fans, that fact alone should heighten the listening experience in terms of getting to hear Sexsmithís complete musical vision for the first time. However, itís not much of a surprise that, as an artist whose music never fails to draw out raw emotions, Sexsmith the producer has made The Last Rider perhaps the most intimate and welcoming album in his catalogue.
Over the course of its 15 tracksómost clocking in at about the three-minute markóThe Last Rider is by turns romantic, bittersweet, uplifting and humourous, as might be expected. But what is most striking is how naturally the songs flow together, and how at ease Sexsmith sounds, accompanied by his trusted touring band who know his creative process perhaps better than anyone.
"I did have this wealth of knowledge about recording that I didnít really realize I had," Sexsmith says. "And being able to rely on Donís skills at getting great sounds, and just making sure everything ran smoothly, was essential. I think for a long time I just may have been afraid to produce myself. I mean, if someone ever said to me, ĎI donít like the way this album was produced,í I could always say, ĎWell, I didnít do it.í"
Working primarily at The Bathouse, The Tragically Hipís studio near Kingston, Ontario, sessions for The Last Rider were a marked change in approach from Sexsmithís previous album, 2015ís Carousel One, which was laid down in less than a week in L.A. with a host of the cityís top session stars. While that was not an unfamiliar setting for Sexsmith, and one he admittedly thrives in, itís not the kind of pressure any artist should be under every time they go into the studio. For The Last Rider, then, it felt right to stay closer to home, and as a result, Sexsmith believes itís one of his most personal albums.
"I didnít plan on it being that way, but as we were assembling the songs, this theme did start to emerge about leaving the city, which my wife and I are going to be doing soon, and other big life changes." Sexsmith adds, "The album title stems from these thoughts Iíd had going into it that this actually might be my last album for a while, just because of how frustrating the music business can be these days. But the way everything played out, it felt a lot more free, so I guess weíll see what happens."
Like one of his main inspirations, Ray Davies, Sexsmith is a rare songwriter able to extract profound meaning from even the most mundane aspects of urban life, while simultaneously lamenting what remains of our simpler past. But always, hope springs eternal. Thatís evident from the outset of The Last Rider with "It Wonít Last For Long," a song that couldnít be a more appropriate balm for the scars left by 2016. The same can be said of "Dreams Are Bigger," whose chorus, "If your dreams are bigger than your worries, you wonít have to worry about your dreams," should particularly appeal to Sexsmithís Twitter followers familiar with his love of clever wordplay.
"I think my sound has always been a combination of the folk singers and British Invasion artists Iíve always admired," he says. "At this point, itís just second nature for me to write short, melodic songs that say everything you want to say. But having my band totally involved on this album maybe brought out more in the songs than on other recent albums. It felt special, anyway."
On the albumís most poignant moments, such as "Man At The Gate (1913)," there certainly is a senseóas with all of Sexsmithís best songsóthat life if often richer than we make it out be, and we should embrace that. In this case, the point is made through a photograph taken a century ago in front of Torontoís Trinity-Bellwoods park, conveying the message that although styles and attitudes change, we all remain connected through our shared humanity. It all sprang from Sexsmith simply buying a postcard at a shop near his house one day.
"In the photograph, thereís a man walking by the gates of the park, and you can barely see him, but thatís the kind of thing I easily get obsessed about," he says. "I couldnít stop thinking that tha