Ron Sexsmith has a voice that just oozes autumn. It’s a guileless, back of the throat gargle of a croon that evokes October days and a pungent nostalgia. On the cover of his third album, 1999’s Whereabouts, the boyish Canadian singer-songwriter posed holding a brown maple leaf. On the first track of his latest record he sings: “Though the cold north wind may blow / It’s all sound and fury / And the summer will return in its former glory.” Summer may be over, but the prime music-buying season is just beginning and this excellent record shouldn’t get overlooked in the CD deluge.
Sexsmith’s last album, 2001’s Blue Boy, was seen as something of a departure from the first three mostly folky, Mitchell Froom-produced efforts that drew comparisons to Tim Hardin and Nick Drake. It found him exploring new textures and tempos with the assistance of producers Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy, from the reggae riddims of “Never Been Done” to the McCartney-esque balladry of “Foolproof.”
On Cobblestone Runway (named for a rough landing at Heathrow Airport in London, where the record was recorded), Sexsmith adds a bit of Philly soul doo-wop (“These Days”) and even disco-fied synth pop (“Dragonfly on Bay Street”) to his musical palette. “Disappearing Act” doesn’t exactly rock, but it has a brighter electric sound than most of Sexsmith’s work. He also creates a more communal vibe, incorporating a backing vocal chorus on some tracks and a guest vocal from Coldplay’s Chris Martin on “Gold in Them Hills.” For the most part, producer Martin Terefe knows when to keep the arrangements simple and when to experiment.
But Sexsmith hasn’t lost his knack for creating beautifully spare, personal, mostly acoustic creations either. “God Loves Everyone” was one of the songs he previewed back in March at South By Southwest, the annual music festival in Austin. It’s a powerful ballad with a touch of strings and vibes complementing Sexsmith’s sweet sentiments: “There are no gates in heaven / Everyone gets in / Queer or straight / Souls of every fate / Hell is in our minds / Hell is in this life / But when it’s gone / God takes everyone.” The record’s penultimate track, “Best Friend” is moving as well.
“Another season’s turning,” Sexsmith sings on “The Least That I Can Do.” It’s a great thing the new season is bringing another terrific record from this unique artist.