Top Fifty 27: Ron Sexsmith, s/t, 1995

[Originally posted May 2011]


It doesn’t matter at all, but I wanted to make sure I had contemporary as well as 60s/70s albums in my notional top fifty – though I don’t know why I should feel so compelled – and Pearl Jam’s Ten is there, and now this by Ron Sexsmith. However, Ron Sexsmith was released in 1995, technically his second but in reality the first album that made him known as the brilliant singer-songwriter he is, and along with PJ’s 1991 effort I don’t seem to be all that recent in the end. Not that this is the end, but you know what I mean.

Ron Sexsmith is simply beautiful. When I first heard this eponymous album I knew instantly there was genius at work, for me at least, and that is one of those phenomenal aural experiences you have every now and then and never forget. This blog was created to articulate musical awe and has, but it has also been sidetracked here and there, so writing about Sexsmith returns me to address that initial purpose.

Ron Sexsmith has an angelic voice and all of the songs on this album are sublime. If it is appropriate to make a football analogy then this album is Barcelona and I will leave the reference there to avoid an extended metaphor that could ultimately detract from the music. But this album is in the back of the net.

As I read the song-list for his album I can hear each one instantly. That says something about the excellence of the songcraft. Whilst every single one is a Messi goal, extra-special free-kicks are Secret Heart; There’s A Rhythm; Lebanon, Tennessee; Speaking With The Angel [and just writing that title I hear its plaintive, yearning and gorgeous vocal]; Waistin’ Time; Galbraith Street, and There’s A Rhythm.

In the Stadium of Singer-Songwriters this album is a true champion. Aural crowds chant Sexsmith’s name.

Ron Sexsmith now has a body of work that firmly establishes him as one of Canada’s greatest musicians and a singer-songwriter to compete with the best from any nationality. I don’t think any of his other albums can compete with this one – and that is so often the case when such brilliance is crystallised in one remarkable musical moment – but throughout these there are echos of that incipient excellence as well as maturing depths both in musical variety and lyrics which plot a life and career [for example, Long Player Late Bloomer].

I wanted Manchester United to win the Champions League Cup but the majestic football of Barcelona made them the rightful victors and it was a joy and privilege to watch. There is a connection to Ron Sexsmith over and above this playful if unoriginal football analogy: it was soon after the release of his second but significant album that I saw Sexsmith play live in the great city of Manchester. That too was a memorable experience.

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